On 9 and 10 December, The Union of Myanmar Federations Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI) held its second annual convention. Bringing together representatives of UMFCCI’s 30,000 members, the convention was a 2-day workshop filled with keynote speeches and discussions seeking to identify and synergize Myanmar’s business community’s efforts and goals. During the convention, the community established 2018’s national business agenda.
During the convention, CESD’s Chief of the Board of Directors, Dr. U Myint, presented a powerful keynote speech on the state of Myanmar’s economy, calling on the Myanmar government to focus on the economy alongside the peace process.
Dr. U Myint pointed out Myanmar had made leaps in economic development in the past decade; per capita income has increased over 100%, poverty has decreased 15%, and Myanmar attracted tens of billions of dollars of foreign direct investment. However, he commented greater economic progress is still needed as Myanmar’s citizens are still the poorest among its neighbors and in all of ASEAN. Despite a decade of rapid improvement, Myanmar’s citizens’ per capita income remains below Cambodia, Laos, and Bangladesh. Over half of Myanmar does not have electricity and there remains an outsized need for further infrastructure development.
In the past few years, economic growth has slowed due to a combination of dynamic nature of government policies and domestic distractions. More recently, the government has focused on the ongoing peace process and the unexpected crisis in Rakhine State. During this period GDP growth has dropped 25% and the economy has not met growth expectations. Myanmar’s ease of doing business remains low and access to finance has not expanded. Additionally, inflation and food prices are rapidly rising, all but nullifying the wage increases many workers’ gained through the minimum wage which was established in 2015 with CESD playing a supporting and facilitating role to establish this legislation.
As an economic advisor to UMFCCI, Dr. U Myint noted that business people and international investors are uncertain about the economy as they have difficulty understanding the government’s economic policies and growth strategies.
Dr. U Myint asked the government to refocus its priorities to include addressing the economy alongside the peace process. He noted that without peace, economic progress is difficult, but without economic process, peace is limited. Economic growth is critical for Myanmar as it will facilitate interstate and international linkages, develop crucial transportation and energy infrastructure, and ultimately encourage increased democratic participation leading to improved livelihoods of all citizens.
CESD looks to aid Myanmar’s economic development by working alongside organizations such as the UMFCCI, as well as the Myanmar Union Government as well as local and state entities to gather primary and secondary data to postulate optimal policies to address Myanmar’s deficiencies. As building sustainable and thoughtful policies is critical to ensuring Myanmar’s continued economic growth, CESD’s research findings and experience is critical to ensuring future growth.
In addition to Dr. U Myint’s Keynote address, the Centre for Economic and Social Development (CESD) helped facilitate UMFCCI’s 2017 convention by chairing panel Q&As and participating in discussions. CESD’s Executive Director, Dr. Zaw Oo chaired the panel and Q&A session, “Developing Linkages in Myanmar,” leading the panel with a presentation on the key challenges facing the business community. CESD’s Deputy Director of Research, Min Zarni Lin, also participated on the panel, discussing labor and enterprise productivity and linking Myanmar to global value chains. On a concluding note, the UMFCCI adopted resolutions to help guide members toward greater economic prosperity and ensuring the creation of a business/investor friendly environment.