A libertarian dream country?
American business is by and large staying out of Myanmar for various reasons, usually citing political uncertainties prior to the 2015 elections, the continuing sanctions regime that imposes restrictions on who they can work with locally, or the reticence of American banks to deal with Myanmar counter-parties.
Others point to the fact that the infrastructure is totally lacking, in terms of all that is wanted to make and export things people want to buy.
Another valid criticism is made of the Myanmar government, which is actually quite small and inefficient; the critics point out that it is hard to get anything done in Naypyidaw.
What American business is here so far is usually channeled through an existing Southeast Asian subsidiary, which is a valid risk-mitigating measure. Other businesses like GE and Chevron are here maintaining a small footprint, certainly no larger than what is absolutely needed to sell big-ticket items or extract fossil fuels.
Chevy/GM and Ford are selling cars through local dealers, AA Medical and RMA Groups, respectively, so risks are shifted to local partners.
The irony is that the major hurdles in doing business in Myanmar are exactly what big corporations railing against big government in the US are looking for.
Want low taxes and small government? Myanmar's got it. The government is so small and inefficient that what taxes your company may owe are unlikely to ever be collected in full.
Want a government that is respon-
‘The irony is that the major hurdles in doing business in Myanmar are exactly what big corporations railing against big government in the US are looking for’
- Robert Walsh
sive to industry input on legislation? Myanmar has that too, and at probably a fraction of the cost of influencing legislation in the US. Myanmar rule-makers and enforcers will probably work for US corporations at rates way below what their fat and greedy American counterparts demand as their due.
Tired of your corporate taxes paying for entitlement programs for the poor and disadvantaged? Myanmar is truly your home-away-from-home. Not only is public spending on medical and education at next-to-nothing levels, any gap or shortfall in these services only represents yet another opportunity for American companies to supply what is needed through free market initiatives.
Do you hate that President Obama told you “You didn't build this!”? Once again, there are few, if any public goods here. Want educated workers? Then you get to say that you educated them! Feel like going the extra mile to be able to say that you did indeed build this? Good, because you'll get to build the road to drive that extra mile, that is, if you want to move goods in and out of your factory. Additionally, you'll get to build whatever it takes to provide electrical power, raw water, and waste treatment for your new factory.
Think of it what you may, Myanmar is just what Tea Party Republicans and their corporate sponsors are looking for in terms of regulating government out of effective existence.
Any true free-market capitalist, schooled in the Washington Consensus and advocating for privatization of every conceivable function of government, would only see Myanmar for the opportunity that it is: unformed clay, just waiting for the master's hand. Robert Walsh is managing partner of S&S Project Management, a Yangon based business consultancy.