“A flock of storks will rest near calm waters so it follows that investors and companies will choose to invest where there are good opportunities for them. They will also choose to invest if the processes involved in making investments is comprehensive and simple.”
Union Minister U Thaung Tun
Interviewer: Hanni Win
Photo: Htein Nan Naw
The Ministry of Investment and Foreign Economic Relations, set up in the incumbent government’s third year in office, works to increase investment in the country so that smoother and effective processes can take place between other union ministries, central organizations, regions and states governments which will, in turn, drive up businesses.
The ministry was officially added to the cabinet of the Union Government on 19 November 2018 with Notification No. 87/2018 from the Office of the President. The following is an interview with Union Minister U Thaung Tun on his ministry’s progress in the four months since its inception.
Q: Since the Ministry of Investment and Foreign Economic Relations was established in the third year of the incumbent government administration, could you tell us what the ministry has done so far?
A: The Ministry of Investment and Foreign Economic Relations was freshly established in November last year but we aren’t organized with newly hired staff. Rather, we incorporated the Directorate of Investment Company Administration and the Foreign Economic Relations Department from the Ministry of Planning and Finance into our ministry. They are already experienced staff who are able to continue working successfully and simultaneously.
Our main objective is to attract more investment into the country to boost national development. Geographically, our country is in a good location. Our population is proper and have high untapped potential. And with India, China and other ASEAN nations neighbouring us we can achieve our goal to establish a modern, developed and prosperous nation if we can bring in their investments.
It was for this reason a separate ministry to focus on the investment sector was created. I can say we have secured good results since our establishment.
Q: What was the situation like when the ministry was first formed?
A: We occupied Office No.1 of the Ministry of Planning and Finance and started our operations from there with the staff of the two departments I’ve mentioned earlier.
Q: What are some of the developments the ministry has made so far?
A: Since its inception, the ministry has been working hard to create a new environment that will allow investments by domestic and foreign investors to be conducted in a more efficient and smoother manner.
Here, I’d like to highlight the One Stop Shop project. The OSS brings everything an investor will need into one place, such as work permits. This will greatly convenience both domestic and foreign businesses in Myanmar and we are prioritizing this project as such.
Another one of our tasks in making Myanmar’s businesses more attractive. One way of doing this is organizing investment fairs, which we have done in Mandalay and Ayeyawady regions and Rakhine State. And we also held an Investment and Regional Product Fair of Chin State in Yangon. Additionally, we organized the Invest Myanmar Summit in early 2019 in Nay Pyi Taw which was arranged for both domestic and foreign businesses and investors.
Q: Please tell us the tasks and responsibilities assigned to your ministry’s departments.
A: As I’ve mentioned before, we have two departments in our organization chart: The Directorate of Investment Company Administration and the Foreign Economic Relations Department.
Any investment conducted in Myanmar needs to file a proposal to the Directorate first. From there it undergoes reviews and is sent to the Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC), which is formed by the President, where it undergoes additional scrutiny. The green light is given only after the MIC has reviewed the proposals.
A lot of people know the Foreign Economic Relations Department with its acronym, FERD. They handle meetings concerning Myanmar and organize communications for Myanmar with ASEAN and GMS business.
Q: How is cooperation going with the international community and the ASEAN economic community?
A: Our ministry is representing the AEC and handling discussions in the ASEAN economic community. This is to enable Myanmar to get on the same level as the international community.
Q: What has Myanmar been cooperating on in the ASEAN region?
A: Currently we are working on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, the proposed free trade agreement between the ten member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the six Asia-Pacific states with which ASEAN has existing free trade agreements.
We are discussing for uniform development to the entire region and between their economies. RCEP includes countries such as China, Japan, Australia, South Korea, New Zealand and India.
Q: Could you also tell us about Myanmar’s cooperation with the international community and the UN?
A: We need technology for national development. Economic development and better financial stability require investments. We are cooperating with the international community and the United Nations for that. While we may have the will to develop our country, we lack the technology and skills to do so right now. Thus, the Ministry of Investment and Foreign Economic Relations is cooperating with the international community to acquire the necessary technology, financial assistance and ODA loans.
When Myanmar actively participates in the affairs and issues of ASEAN and the international community, we do so with the intention of bringing benefits to all parties concerned. We are trying to bring about uniform development in the economic sector and ensure the people receive the benefits of development and higher living standards.
Q: Please tell us about the memoranda of understanding and agreements Myanmar has successfully negotiated into fruition.
A: There’s the ASEAN-Hong Kong free trade agreement, ASEAN-Hong Kong investment agreement, the first protocol to amend the ASEAN Free Trade Area, the protocol to implement the tenth package of commitments of the ASEAN Framework Agreement on Services, the ASEAN Agreement on E-Commerce, and the first protocol to amend the ASEAN-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement.
Q: What tasks is the Union Government pursuing with the partner countries and organizations in development and what policies has it laid down?
A: Let me illustrate the nature of investment with an allegory. A flock of storks will rest near calm waters so it follows that investors and companies will choose to invest where there are good opportunities for them. They will also choose to invest if the processes involved in making investments is comprehensive and simple. That is why we are working hard to create this type of environment and attract investors. Or to put it another way, we are trying to increase the ease of doing business in Myanmar.
We have launched the online system MyCO to make company registration easier. We are working to have the registration completed within the hour after registering from the online platform and we are working on similar changes. We are also working on legal and administrative changes as well.
Q: Can you tell us some of the tasks the ministry has been doing to secure foreign investment?
A: We have been sending delegations abroad to spread the genuine situation of Myanmar and its good attributes to the international community. We have been to our neighbouring countries of Singapore, Thailand and China, and Hong Kong, Macao, South Korea and Japan to discuss the truth of our situation. We have seen investments come in from these discussions.
For example, Chinese companies entered Myanmar’s textile industry as well as companies from Thailand, Singapore and others. There seems to be increased interest in Myanmar along with more businesses.
Q: Is there anything else you would like tell the people of Myanmar?
A: I want everyone to know that our country has opportunities to provide benefits to both the investors and ourselves because of our geograpy and populational, compared to other countries. This is why I envision more investments to follow than before.
(Translated by Pen Dali)