Tourism in­dus­try in­sep­a­ra­ble from po­lit­i­cal prob­lems, EU en­voy warns

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - Local Business - CHAN MYA HTWE chan­myahtwe@mm­times.com

THE prospect of Myan­mar’s tourism hinges upon the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal devel­op­ment, the Euro­pean Union’s top en­voy told The Myan­mar Times.

“If a coun­try is un­sta­ble or does not fol­low hu­man rights or demo­cratic norms, tourists, es­pe­cially those from Europe, are less in­clined to visit,” Kris­tian Sch­midt, the Euro­pean Union am­bas­sador to Myan­mar, re­marked, while stress­ing that bi­lat­eral trade be­tween the coun­try and the bloc is grow­ing and eco­nomic part­ner­ships are strength­en­ing, de­spite not liv­ing up to ini­tial ex­pec­ta­tions.

The Myan­mar Times con­ducted an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view with the am­bas­sador at the Eu-myan­mar Eco­nomic Fo­rum. This year’s an­nual fo­rum was held on June 6 at Kempin­ski ho­tel in Nay Pyi Taw. An ex­cerpt of the in­ter­view is in­cluded be­low.

The eco­nomic part­ner­ship be­tween the Euro­pean Union and Myan­mar is still weak. Does the EU have any plans to pro­mote eco­nomic co­op­er­a­tion with Myan­mar? There are many im­prove­ments in Eumyan­mar co­op­er­a­tion, es­pe­cially in eco­nomic mat­ters. If Myan­mar firms ex­port to EU, they can en­joy “Most­favoured Na­tion” sta­tus and ex­port freely to 28 EU mem­ber states. So, Myan­mar’s ex­ports to EU will in­crease. Myan­mar and EU trade vol­ume con­tin­ues to im­prove which is now about 3.7 times more than that in 2013. An­other thing is in Eu-myan­mar trade, Myan­mar has a trade sur­plus, it is ex­port­ing more than EU.

Busi­nesses ex­pected in­ward Euro­pean in­vest­ments to sig­nif­i­cantly scale up un­der the Na­tional League for Democ­racy-led govern­ment. It has been two years since the govern­ment took of­fice, but this has not ma­te­ri­alised. What is hap­pen­ing? In my opin­ion, trade is im­prov­ing. But it hasn’t reached the level ex­pected by Myan­mar peo­ple two years ago. It is true that the trade sec­tor only im­proved to a sat­is­fac­tory level. We ex­pected it to in­crease by 10pc but it reached only 6-7pc be­cause the govern­ment is a new one.

An­other fac­tor is that the govern­ment is fo­cus­ing on var­i­ous is­sues, es­pe­cially peace and democ­racy mat­ters. How­ever, ev­ery prob­lem can­not be solved as eas­ily as we think, as so­lu­tions take time. For ex­am­ple, we can see that the Rakhine is­sue is af­fect­ing the na­tional econ­omy to some de­gree. Arrangements are be­ing made as much as the govern­ment can achieve, and for the coun­try to have an im­proved im­age in the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.

The next thing is that all the prob­lems did not spring up dur­ing Nld­gov­ern­ment’s term. These mat­ters were also be­ing re­solved un­der pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ments. Max­i­mum ef­fort has been put to search for so­lu­tions and also the Ad­vi­sory Com­mis­sion on Rakhine State, chaired by Kofi An­nan, was formed. By look­ing at these ac­tions, Myan­mar [the govern­ment] seems to be try­ing hard to move for­ward in the forth­com­ing years.

The preva­lent view among Euro­pean in­vestors who are look­ing into Myan­mar is that we all are still fig­ur­ing out the im­pli­ca­tions and de­tails of the In­vest­ment Law, min­i­mum wage and changes. The prob­lems are pil­ing up more and more and they can only be man­aged with the govern­ment in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the EU, and not by deal­ing with the prob­lems on their own. What ar­eas in the In­vest­ment Law need to be ad­dressed in or­der for Euro­pean in­vest­ments to flow in? Frankly, what the EU in­vestors see, in re­gards to the in­vest­ment law, is that if ev­ery in­vest­ment made by EU com­pa­nies in Myan­mar is given the op­por­tu­ni­ties, and with­out unnecessary in­ter­ven­tion from the govern­ment, then more in­vest­ments will come here.

Which sec­tors in Myan­mar at­tract the most in­ter­est from Euro­pean in­vestors? Apart from the en­ergy sec­tor, the other sec­tors which can at­tract in­ward in­vest­ments are agri­cul­ture, live­stock, aqua­cul­ture and tourism. These sec­tors are most likely to re­ceive in­vest­ment.

Mean­while, sus­tain­able en­ergy and re­new­able en­ergy like the solar and hy­dro­elec­tric sec­tors are also ar­eas which are of po­ten­tial in­vest­ment in­ter­est. But one thing is cer­tain: If we talk about tourism, it is in­sep­a­ra­ble from pol­i­tics. If a coun­try is un­sta­ble or does not fol­low hu­man rights or demo­cratic norms, tourists, es­pe­cially those from Europe, are less in­clined to visit.

This in­ter­view has been trans­lated and edited for length and clar­ity.

EU am­bas­sador Kris­tian Sch­midt speaks to The Myan­mar Times in an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view dur­ing the Eu-myan­mar Eco­nomic Fo­rum in the cap­i­tal city. Photo: Thiri Lu/ The Myan­mar Times

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