Many people believe that Myanmar presents a great opportunity for investment and growth. Rich in natural resources and with a youthful population of 60 million, the country seems ripe for investment. However the challenges facing the country are substantial.
An antiquated financial system, poor infrastructure, an unskilled labor force, lack of hard data and a government bureaucracy that is ranked bottom by Transparency International are detrimental. However, the perceived opportunities available have many potential investors prepared to overlook and even combat the negatives.
In the elections of March 2011, Myanmar ended more than 52 years of isolationist totalitarian government. The new rulers and former military commander Thin Sein started the preliminary steps of opening the country to market forces. Myanmar thus became a magnet for multinational companies looking in at a potentially new, large and lucrative market.
The Burmese government seems to be aware that it has a small window in which to ensure that the coming market rush in sectors such as agriculture, mining and extraction, manufacturing, energy, tourism and telecommunications embraces equitable and green growth. As trade sanctions on the country were loosened, a wave of foreigners arrived seeing dollar signs. However, in a country scrambling to keep up with the influx of business, what would be a simple task back home can be challenging. The legal system seems to date back to the colonial days and it’s very hard to get a grip on what are the actual obligations to follow here. The list of multinationals that beat a quick path to Myanmar included Coca-Cola, Unilever, Chevron, General Electric, Pepsi, Cisco Systems and Standard Chartered Bank. Norway’s Telenor and Qatar’s Ooredoo both received cellular phone licences to connect the country.
With the proximity to markets like China and India, Myanmar holds a logical attraction for businesses prepared to make the effort and has thus been called the last frontier for business, but the bigger question remains – Will Myanmar continue to utilize its’ unique position and overcome the drawbacks to approach market development more sustainably after the three years of transition?