State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who is on a working visit in Tokyo, Japan, attended the Myanmar Silk Promotion Event facilitated by the ASEAN-Japan Centre and the Myanmar Investment Conference discussing under the topic ‘Strengthening the Bond Between Myanmar and Japan’, both held yesterday.
The State Counsellor and her entourage made their way to the ASEAN-Japan Center at 1pm local standard time and were welcomed by Mr. Ichiro Aisawa, Chairman of the Japan-Myanmar Parliamentary Friendship Association, Mr. Hiroto Izumi, Special Advisor to the Japanese Prime Minister, Mr. Hideo Watanabe, Chairman of Japan-Myanmar Friendship Association, Mr. Keiji Fuji, Chairman of Daimatsu, and Mr. Masataka Fujita, Secretary-General of the ASEAN-Japan Centre.
The State Counsellor and Union Ministers U Thaung Tun and U Kyaw Tin, and their welcoming party then cut the ceremonial ribbon to open the Myanmar Silk Promotion Event. They toured the displays of clothing sewn with Myanmar silk while officials gave explanations.
The State Counsellor then received souvenirs from the ASEAN-Japan Center officials and took a documentary photo.
The ASEAN-Japan Center was established on 25 May 1981 and Myanmar became a member on 27 April 2006. The center promotes trade, investment and tourism in and between ASEAN countries and Japan as well as developing human resources.
The State Counsellor and her entourage next went to Meiji Kinekanto attend the Myanmar Investment Conference held there, under the title ‘Strengthening the Bond Between Myanmar and Japan’. They were welcomed by Japan External Trade Organization – (JETRO) Chairman and CEO Mr. Hiroyuki Ishige and Vice President Ms. Yuri Sato.
Mr. Hiroyuki Ishige and the Japanese Vice-Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Mr. Hirofumi Takinami delivered separate addresses.
This was followed by an opening speech from State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, in which she said that given the close relationship between Myanmar and Japan, a majority of the investors and business people participating in this event will bring with them a deep understanding of Myanmar, informed by the historical ties which connect the two countries.
She said she was equally certain that these same investors and business people are also taking a keen interest in recent positive changes to Myanmar’s investment environment. New investment and company laws recently in effect provide a much-improved legal framework for investors, she said.
Myanmar has been undergoing multiple, simultaneous, complex transitions throughout recent years.
These transitions have affected all aspects of the country’s social, political and economic life. Very few of our people remain untouched by these transitions, she said.
As Myanmar has only recently emerged from a lengthy period of self-imposed isolation, many of the reforms that are now underway are focused specifically on addressing ‘legacy issues.’ She said, the legacies are more on the negative than the positive side, so we have to struggle very hard to cope with that. This social, economic and political ‘housekeeping’, much of which occurs out of the spotlight, behind closed doors at times, is essential if we are to create an enabling environment which will permit many of the newer, pipeline reform initiatives to go forward, she said.
The State Counsellor said that since the incumbent government took office in 2016, it has been fully committed not just to the pursuit of economic development, but also to striking the right balance between development and stability – both economically and politically – and one cannot survive without the other. Striking the right balance is never easy. In Myanmar, we have boldly decided against taking a populist approach to macroeconomics and chosen to favour the less glamorous but still fundamentally important work required to reform and strengthen the management of our economy, increase resilience to shocks, and to stabilize macroeconomic foundations, such as bringing inflation down from the double-digit figures we saw, faced in 2015-2016, said the State Counsellor.
As a result of our collective efforts, inflation has been tamed at around 5 per cent, for the present, which has allowed our economy to grow at a decent rate of 6 to 7 per cent, amongst the fastest in Asia. Which, I do not think is good enough, but it’s not bad, she said. Thanks to these and other reform efforts, there has been per-capita incomes risen by 50 per cent.
Poverty rates have fallen from above 40 per cent to 30 per cent today. Furthermore, as a result of our combined efforts, earlier this year, for the first time, Myanmar fulfilled all eligibility criteria to graduate from Least Developed Country status, she said.
The State Counsellor said that despite all these very positive developments, there is still ample room for improvement and of course the expectations of the people are rising, and will always be rising.
As we are all aware, the global economy has, since 2008, been recovering from a decade long fever. Thanks partially to relative isolation, Myanmar managed to evade that particular fever, she said. Ten years on, global economic growth is now expected to remain robust at 3.1 per cent in 2018, with some Central Banks having begun gradually removing monetary stimulus put in place to combat economic downturns.
Unlike ten years ago, Myanmar today is exposed to these global macroeconomic shifts in ways never before experienced. For example, unlike in the past, the gradual removal of monetary stimulus in some big economies could have undesirable direct or indirect impacts on an emerging economy like ours. This is a challenge we have to be prepared to face.
Luckily, despite global challenges, the growth outlook for developing Asia in 2018 was recently upgraded to 6 per cent, or 0.1 percentage points higher than the rate envisaged in September 2017 by the Asian Development Bank. As part of this developing Asia, Myanmar’s economic trajectory is promising.
The State Counsellor said that the Government of Myanmar is steering a careful course through waves of multiple, complex and simultaneous transitions that are social, political and economic in nature. Despite multidimensional risks, external and internal pressures, and the monumental complexity of the issues we must deal with, our commitment to be a responsible member of the global community has not wavered, she said. The Government of Myanmar has confirmed its commitment to the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals which have now been integrated into Myanmar’s planning, budgeting and monitoring frameworks consistent with the conditions and needs of the country. We have developed a comprehensive social, economic and environmental policy reform agenda, the Myanmar Sustainable Development Plan, or MSDP, which provides a unifying and coherent roadmap for our future reforms, she said.
Structured around 3 Pillars, 5 Goals, 28 Strategies and 251 Action Plans, the MSDP can be seen as the expression of our national development vision; a vision which finds resonance in the global sustainable development agenda.
The first MSDP goal focuses on peace and national reconciliation, key elements for achieving political stability, and of course, there are the greatest number of challenges in that sector and that has to do with the aforementioned ‘legacy issue’, said the State Counsellor. She said the second goal emphasizes macroeconomic management, with a focus on achieving and then maintaining economic stability, without which broader, multi-sector development cannot begin to materialize. The third goal relates to job creation and private sector growth, the fourth goal focuses on human capacity and social development, including expanding access to quality education and healthcare.
The fifth goal – natural resources management and environmental protection – highlights our commitment to play our part to protect our planet through sustainable environmental and natural resources management, she said. The State Counsellor said MSDP Goal 3 demonstrates our commitment to creating a favorable investment and business environment. In line with this commitment, the Myanmar Investment Commission, under its new Chair Union Minister U Thaung Tun, is now reviewing all processes not only within the MIC itself but also within other government agencies, with a view to establishing simple, clear and predictable Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).
She said there is anticipation that this exercise will contribute to the development of a single window system for use by all investors and businesses who may or may not be registered under the MIC.
The State Counsellor was pleased to say that a single window system is already in use at the Thilawa Special Economic Zone and that it provides a strong and positive precedent. She said Thilawa is the great success story of cooperation between Myanmar and Japan. She hopes it will be seen as an indication of future possibilities. It makes us confident that the roll out of similar systems elsewhere, starting with the MIC, should not be too difficult, she said.
The State Counsellor gave an example of a next step, which will involve migrating many existing manual processes online so that investors do not even need to come to a physical single window to have their needs addressed. One excellent example of such a system already in use is the MyCo system used by our Directorate for Investment and Companies Administration, she said. MyCo is an electronic registration system through which companies can now be incorporated online without needing to be physically present at the registrar’s office. This is the type of progress we are now focused on, and replicating and expanding.
The State Counsellor expressed her personal and sincere appreciation to the Government of Japan and to JICA for their instrumental support towards the development of the Myanmar Investment Promotion Plan, which will promote even greater foreign direct investment in Myanmar, and which will play a significant role in supporting the Myanmar Japan Joint Initiative (MJJI) programme, in part by identifying, and then resolving, impediments faced by investors, and providing further policy recommendations. She also thanked JICA for being very careful in coordinating their work to our development aims. It is very important that we should all coordinate and cooperate if we are to make the fastest progress possible in a country that has fallen behind others in our region, she said. She said Myanmar has the advantages of the late comer in the sense that there is much to learn from the mistakes as well as the successes of others who have gone before us.
The State Counsellor said further policy recommendations will assist us in creating an enabling environment that will enhance opportunities for the ability of our Japanese investors to do business in Myanmar comfortably, efficiently, and in a predictable and transparent manner, underpinned by the Agreement on Liberalization, Promotion and Protection of Investment signed between our two governments. The Agreement ensures an easy entry into a wide range of economic sectors as well as protection and security for Japanese investments.
She said another success story which highlights the type of positive partnership that can be achieved between our respective public and private sectors is the Thilawa SEZ. The State Counsellor said, as she mentioned earlier, that we are very proud of the successful example of Japanese-Myanmar cooperation. Thilawa SEZ has become a crowning success in a very short period of time, receiving a total investment of USD 1.491 billion, a figure which reflects the dollar value of those investments actually entering the economy. Investors from countries such as Japan, the United States, Germany, France, Sweden, Australia, China, India, Singapore, Thailand and Taiwan have each invested in the Thilawa SEZ, with many more investors eager to invest in Zone B of the SEZ.
The State Counsellor said that to assist investors in the process of identifying infrastructure priorities in a more strategic, transparent and open manner, we are developing a Project Bank, that is to say: a rolling databank consisting of major, transformative projects that have been screened, appraised and prioritized such that they are ready for implementation with the most appropriate source of financing, be it from the government budget, development assistance or even private sector financing by way of Private-Public-Partnership (PPP) mechanisms.
The opening of Myanmar’s markets is now in full swing, she said. In what has been referred to as Southeast Asia’s final frontier market, investment opportunities are everywhere in the country. Some are plain to see, others are waiting to be found.
The Government of Myanmar is wholly committed to a continued improvement in Myanmar’s investment environment. All we ask of our investors is that they ensure that their investments are responsible by incorporating environmental, social and governance factors (ESG in short) in their enterprises.
She said it is also important that the rights of stakeholders, including employees through the creation of fair and favorable working conditions are prioritized as part of this responsible investment approach. She said Myanmar’s long close relationship with Japan has left no doubt as to Japan’s capacity for ensuring responsible investment in Myanmar. We welcome your investment with enthusiasm and confidence, she said.
The State Counsellor was also pleased to inform that both business people and tourists from Japan can now enjoy visa free access to Myanmar. She invited them to visit and soak up an atmosphere brimming with opportunities and witness the newfound economic vibrancy with your own eyes.
She said that as we move our business-to-business engagement forward, we will also promote our people-to-people relationship which is founded on a deep, steadfast and mutually beneficial friendship that brings peoples and business together for the benefit of all.
In her final remarks, the State Counsellor said that as between friends, she was ready to acknowledge that Myanmar has challenges to face, particularly with regard to the Rakhine and with the struggles Myanmar has on the peace front. She said we are aware of the difficulties, we are not hiding this fact from our friends but we are confident that if we stand firm in the interest of all who live within our frontiers and who are all dependent on Myanmar for their security and their prosperity, we shall not fail to go forward. Peace and prosperity go together, we cannot have one without the other, she said. She said we understand that peace, reconciliation, harmony, stability, rule of law, human rights – all these have to be taken into consideration when we are looking for more investors, for greater economic opportunities, and when we are looking to our friends to come and join us in our economic ventures. It is not simply an economic venture; it’s a national venture which incorporates many, many strands – social, economic, political, she said. The State Counsellor expressed her wish to be very open and transparent with our friends. She requested that if there were any concerns or worries, to please discuss this openly with us and to please keep an open mind. Unless you keep an open mind, you will not be able to see what the true situation is like, she said. She continued, saying, and while we are prepared to discuss openly with you, I think it is also important that you are prepared to listen and to consider seriously in what way we can work together not just to make bilateral trade and investment relations between Japan and Myanmar better, but to improve relations between our two peoples, and to contribute better relations throughout the world.
The State Counsellor then took a documentary photo with all in attendance.The conference was attended by more than 400 Japanese business owners, Myanmar business owners and invited guests.
JETRO is supported by the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and works to promote mutual trade and investment between Japan and the rest of the world, and has a branch office opened in Myanmar.
JETRO was first established under the name Japan Export Trade Research Organization in Osaka in 1952, with the initial aim to consolidate Japan’s efforts in export promotion. Later, JETRO’s role shifted to encompass more varied activities such as furthering understanding with trade partner countries, promoting imports and exports, creating markets for small and medium enterprises, supporting foreign investors to Japan and to Japanese investors investing in foreign countries.
JETRO has 75 offices around the world, which include 27 in Asia, 2 in the Pacific Region, 8 in North America, 9 in South and the Mid-American Region, 14 in Europe, 3 in Russia, 5 in the Middle East, and 7 in the African Region. Later at night, the State Counsellor attended a banquet dinner hosted by Japanese Prime Minister Mr. Shizo Abe.