Time to Generate Momentum

A diverse range of opportunities exist in Myanmar as the country rejoins the ranks of dynamic Asian economies. A substantial investment in the country’s infrastructure – telecom, power and transportation, is for the asking and rekindling of consumer demand will require a rapid development of Myanmar’s financial services industry. Myanmar’s resurgent tourism industry will require a significant increase in facilities to cope with demand.
But are we losing the opportunity in Myanmar?

Vendors sell vegetables at Thiriminglar market, one of Myanmar’s biggest wholesale vegetable markets, in Yangon. | photo - soe zeya tun
Vendors sell vegetables
at Thiriminglar market,
one of Myanmar’s biggest
wholesale vegetable markets, in Yangon. | photo – soe zeya tun

There was a great deal of talk of a great game on Myanmar involving China, Western powers and India. But does India have the minimum economic footprint in Myanmar to play such a game?

Myanmar receives foreign investment from 32 countries in four major sectors: energy, oil and gas, mining, and manufacturing and China is the biggest investor in Myanmar, followed by Thailand, Hong Kong, South Korea, Britain, Singapore, Malaysia, France, Vietnam and India. Myanmar’s total trade volume in 2012 was $25.16 billion. 41% of Myanmar’s total exports went to Thailand last year, with 15% to India and 14% to China. Myanmar imported mainly from China, and only 3% from India. India’s main exports to Myanmar are pharmaceutical products, iron and steel, electrical machinery and equipment whereas it imports vegetables, pulses and wood products from Myanmar in large quantities.

It may indeed be high time for the Indian IT industry as well as the media/ entertainment industry to become enthused about Myanmar as a potential market. Equally, Indian players in healthcare and education should also hope for great returns in Myanmar if they strike while the iron is hot. Infrastructure building is on top of the priority list. India has agreed to upgrade an extensive network of roads, lay train tracks, and build bridges in Myanmar that would effectively connect the Northeast (and the rest of India) to Thailand as soon as 2016, facilitating border transit that would make the Northeast a gateway to Myanmar – a potential boon for trade as well as tourism. Announcements have been made to set up new schools, health centers and agricultural training facilities in border areas. To facilitate informal trade haats, or open-air bazaars, would open along the border, and cross-border bus services introduced. The Kaladan River would become a shipping route, linking Mizoram state to Myanmar’s port of Sittwe, which India is helping develop.

While the North-East region was not key to the Look East policy when it was first formulated, in recent years it has been given greater strategic importance. The Indian government’s North Eastern Region Vision, the development blueprint, calls for the region “to be enabled to play the arrow-head role in the further evolution” of the policy. If India is concerned that improved connectivity between the Northeast and Myanmar will also make life easier for  he insurgents, a fear that has previously delayed infrastructure projects there, bolstering border security will need to be accelerated.

It is amazing how much can happen within a short time, if there is a will. It’s time India stirred to higher levels of activation…. for Myanmar, and for India.

Ranjit Barthakur, Founding Chairman, Myanmar Matters.