Q: Myanmar’s transition to a civilian government brought with it big expectations for foreign investment, but these expectations have only partially been met so far. Why?
A: The challenge is the perception of Myanmar among foreign investors, because the foundation of our investment proposition has not changed. The country is strategically located between the two fastest growing major economies in the world, China and India. We are thus well placed to become the engine of growth for the entire Asia region, which is why we are optimistic that the magnitude of the investment that we are looking for in the coming years will materialise. Our target is to attract $200bn in the next 20 years.
Q: Much of those negative perceptions originate in the Rohingya crisis in the western Rakhine state. How are you trying to change perceptions about that?
A: The government is committed to finding a solution to the challenges we face in Rakhine. In order to find a solution, we need to work as partners: identify the problem, and then come up with a solution. This problem is due to many factors. One traces back to legacies from our history, another has to do with the fact that Rakhine is one of the least developed parts of the country. If we are able to spur development there, put infrastructure in place, provide jobs, there will be more hope among the local communities, whether they be Buddhist, Muslim or Hindu communities, it doesn’t matter which faith they belong to, they are all part of the country, and we can work together.
We need to have harmony, and in order to do that we need development. This is why we are emphasising peace, harmony and development.
Q: Why did the government establish a dedicated Ministry for Investment and Foreign Economic Relations in late 2018?
A: It is only proper to think that if we have more focus on certain issues, we can get better results, because we want to have more results-oriented ministries. It is not enough to be proactive; we need to bring in the investors. That’s why I’m in London [at a Myanmar forum organised by the UK-Asean business council] to promote the country as an investment destination in the UK and elsewhere.
Q: Your ambition is to attract $200bn in 20 years. What are the priorities in terms of sectors?
A: The first priority is agro-based industries, for as much of our economy still depends on agriculture, and most of the people live in rural areas. The energy sector is important in our agenda too. Without energy and electricity we can’t do the economic leapfrogging we are envisioning for the country. And also infrastructure. The lack of infrastructure in Myanmar can be seen as a challenge, but it is an opportunity for investors. We need deep-sea ports, refineries, airports; we need a lot of things to catch up with the rest of the world.
Q: You urged investors “to bring us your buckets”. What would you say to convince them?
A: As Rudyard Kipling once said: “There is no place like Myanmar”.