Interview: Mark Garnier
How would you characterise the level of UK trade and investment in Myanmar?
MARK GARNIER: There’s great potential. I think UK companies understand the level of expansion and growth here. They are going to become even more enthusiastic than they already are. It is pleasing to see so much interest shown by UK companies in Myanmar, as evidenced by the very large turnout of over 200 UK businesses at the Trade and Industry Conference. I’ve also just been with a group of Myanmar businesspeople. We were talking about the opportunities across infrastructure, health care and many other sectors, and it is clear that there is a world of opportunity here which matches really well with UK expertise. It seems to me that there’s an enormous amount of commonality between what the Myanmar people are looking for and what the British can offer. There is no better time for UK companies to take these opportunities and develop partnerships.
Those that have been doing business in South-east Asia and parts of the Asia-Pacific region for a number of years are more in tune with what is going on there. They have a much better idea of what the market potential is for their businesses. However, UK-based businesses are much less knowledgeable about Myanmar as a potential export and foreign direct investment market. That is why conferences such as the one that took place in London, bringing together a delegation of more than 70 Myanmar government and business representatives and more than 200 UK business representatives, are so important.
How do opportunities in Myanmar compare to other countries throughout the region?
GARNIER: There are huge opportunities throughout all sectors. However, Myanmar is still a frontier market. Therefore, most of these opportunities come with a developmental need attached to the commercial opportunity. So comparing opportunities in Myanmar to South-east Asian neighbours like Thailand, Vietnam or Indonesia is like comparing apples with pears. However, UK companies have a distinct advantage in Myanmar in that, historically, UK business principles and the quality of products and services are held in the highest regard. There is definite belief both locally and internationally that the new government is pushing through greater transparency measures, particularly on economic policy. I believe that this will encourage more UK companies to look seriously at doing business in Myanmar.
To what extent has the lifting of sanctions affected the concerns of UK companies looking at opportunities in Myanmar?
GARNIER: There has been some positive news. During State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to the US in September 2016, President Barack Obama announced the lifting of Executive Order-based economic and financial sanctions on Myanmar: a landmark move that will bring to an end 20 years of sanctions. The process of lifting sanctions has now been completed. This included the removal of all individuals and entities on the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons list. This removal of the last structural obstacles to trade is another important step in the normalisation of Myanmar’s global trade relationship. The decision sends a powerful signal to the Western business community that Myanmar is open for business. For UK businesses – which have greater exposure to the US market and a robust approach to adhering to sanctions – lifting sanctions is an opportunity. We need to focus on helping them to build their understanding and presence now if they are to benefit down the line. There are many international companies doing business in Myanmar. I think now that the sanctions are lifted, we will see more UK companies taking a keener interest in Myanmar, too, and considering their options for investment or trade.
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