(UNION OF MYANMAR) (Formerly: BURMA)

(WIPO code: MM) (latest review July 2021)

by U MYINT LWIN Law Office, Yangon

General Information

Area

678,500 sq. km.

Population

57,069,099 (estimated July 2021).

Capital

Nay Pyi Taw, 360 km north of Yangon is the new administrative capital since 2006.

Principal Cities

Yangon (formerly Rangoon with approximately 5.422 million inhabitants) main port and commercial center, and Mandalay (seat of former Myanmar kings) northern commercial center.

Official languages

Myanmar and English.

Religion

Buddhist 89%, Christian 4%, Muslim 4%, Hindu 1%, Animist 1%, other 1%.

Currency

Kyat (MMK).

Economy

Per capita status: U.S.$ 277.9 billion GDP (2019 estimate).

Total imports

U.S.$ 14.958 billion (2018 estimate). Note: crude oil, petroleum products, machinery and equipment, transport equipment, construction materials, fertilizer, cement, edible oil, food products, fabric and plastics resin are imported. Import figures are grossly underestimated due to the value of consumer goods, diesel fuel and other products smuggled in from Thailand, China, Malaysia and India.

Total exports

U.S.$ 16.267 billion (2018 estimate). Note: agricultural produce, wood products, natural gas, minerals, marine products, clothing, jade and gems and all exportable commodities are exported. Official export figures are grossly underestimated due to the value of timber, gems, narcotics, rice and other products smuggled into Thailand, China and Bangladesh.

General Remarks

Political conditions: a nominally civilian Parliamentary Government took power in March 2011. The country is expected to see a major shift when the government changes hands early in 2016. The dominance of the largest ethnic group, the Burman or Bamar people, over the country’s many minorities has been fuelling a series of long-running rebellions, although a gradual peace process yielded a draft ceasefire deal in 2015. Military offensives against insurgents have uprooted many thousands of civilians. Ceasefire deals signed in late 2011 and early 2012 with rebels of the Karen and Shan ethnic groups suggested a new determination to end the long-running conflicts, as did a draft ceasefire agreement signed between the government and all 16 rebel groups in March 2015.

Economic conditions: Myanmar’s economy largely depends on natural resources and agriculture. As a largely rural, densely-forested country, it is known as an agro-based country offering a vast potential for investors. With highly fertile soil, it grows and exports not only perennial plants but also crops such as rice, pulses and beans, maize, sesame, fruits and vegetables. Myanmar welcomes investments in producing value-added agricultural products and processed foods.
With its long sea coastline and four main rivers, Myanmar is able to export fishery products, including fresh water fishery and shrimp.
Half of the country’s area is still covered with natural forest with various hardwood and softwood species, including world famous teak wood and varieties of forestry products are exported.
Myanmar is rich in mineral resources such as timber, coal, limestone, copper, gold, lead, zinc, silver, tin and tungsten, antimony, chromium and nickel, so that it can export mineral products including jade and gems and other semi-precious stones. New technology is needed for gem cutting, polishing and jewelry manufacturing.
With important offshore oil and gas deposits exploration and production is the highest contribution to the foreign direct investment in Myanmar through production sharing contracts. There is also vast potential for cooperation in the downstream projects in the energy sector such as refinery plants and fertilizer plants as well as hydropower.
Despite being a resource-rich country, the economy is one of the least developed in the world and is suffering from the effects of decades of stagnation, mismanagement, and isolation. Key industries have long been controlled by the military, and corruption is rife.
The most productive sectors will continue to be in extractive industries – especially oil and gas, mining, and timber – with the latter two causing significant environmental degradation. Other areas, such as manufacturing, tourism, and services, struggle in the face of poor infrastructure, unpredictable trade policies, limited “know-how” and undeveloped human resources (the result of neglected health and education systems), endemic corruption, inadequate access to capital for investment, and administrative constraints that have stifled the manufacturing sector.
Poverty level is at an estimated 26% of the population and is twice as high in rural areas where 70% of the population lives. Notable progress in poverty reduction appears to be achievable because of good performance in recent years, accelerated reforms and assistance from development partners.
Banking in Myanmar is thriving but requires further private sector reforms. In 2011 the government took initial steps toward reforming and opening up the economy by lowering export taxes, easing restrictions on its financial sector, and reaching out to international organizations for assistance. Although the current Burmese government has good economic relations with its neighbors, significant improvements in economic governance, the business climate, and the political situation are needed to promote serious foreign investment. It could however, in the near future, become the biggest treasury land for investors.