Viewpoint: Cheah Swee Gim
The National League for Democracy (NLD) first entered Myanmar’s political and economic mainstream in 2015. They will, once more, contest a position in the 2020 elections. The primary focus of the government during this period has been the resolution of social issues throughout the country, notably in the border regions. With the NLD’s term approaching its end, the government is increasingly concentrating on strengthening the mechanisms for promoting investment and growth.
The Myanmar Trademark Law was passed in January 2019, paving the way for the establishment of the Myanmar Intellectual Property Office (MIPO), which administers trademark registrations. With a first-to-file system, this law brings Myanmar on par with the rest of the ASEAN nations, allowing a registered trademark to be valid for 10 years subject to renewal. The Industrial Design Law, Patent Law and Copyright Law were also enacted in 2019. These four laws represent a complete modernisation of the Myanmar intellectual property landscape. The relevant regulations for these laws are being drafted with the assistance of the World Intellectual Property Organisation, the Japan External Trade Organisation and the Japan Patent Office.
While these developments are relatively new and implementing them may require further work, they build a strong intellectual property framework that will underpin healthy competition and future growth. We expect this to bolster international investment. In this regard, the Intellectual Property Department is also preparing to roll out an electronic trademark registration system in January 2020, coinciding with the opening of the MIPO in Yangon and Naypyitaw.
Another key development has been the enactment of the Tax Administration Law (TAL), which came into effect in October 2019. The TAL is applicable to income, commercial and special commodities tax, and aims to enact a number of modifications to the current taxation procedure within Myanmar. Furthermore, the TAL provides the Internal Revenue Department (IRD) with the authority to issue public rulings to ensure consistency and practical guidelines for taxes throughout the region. The TAL also prescribed a number of further requirements to maintain and uphold tax laws. This began the evolution process for enforcement of the tax regime in the country, which is a central concern for a government that struggles to finance policy due to shortcomings in domestic revenue mobilisation.
In October 2019 the Central Bank of Myanmar issued Directive No. 2 of 2019, thereby initialising the formation of the Land and Property Bank. The scheme aims to facilitate investments by providing a centralised database and accurate information to potential investors regarding Myanmar’s most valuable asset: land. It includes consolidating information regarding the land and properties owned by the government, and creating an interactive online database to store them. The ongoing implementation of this scheme falls under the remit of the Ministry of Investment and Foreign Economic Relations (MIFER).
The directive also considers whether privately owned land and properties also be included on the Land and Property Bank, enabling easier access to potential investors through voluntary disclosures by the respective owners. Investors wishing to lease land or property may submit proposals directly to the respective ministries that own the relevant land or properties, or through the MIFER.
In line with prioritising economic development, in July 2018 the NLD government restructured the National Economic Coordination Committee (NECC), which is led by the state counsellor. The NECC leads the creation and review of policies and priorities for economic growth, and is a body worth watching closely as it holds extensive executive power across all sectors. There have been significant improvements made to Myanmar’s legal landscape in 2019. A solid foundation has been laid for economic growth, and I expect this will become increasingly apparent in the near future.
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