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Myanmar – The Cooperative Effort

  • July 1st, 2012
  • Posted by EUEditor

burma-pagodas.jpgA leading focus of world attention is the country of Myanmar-Burma, where a military government has stepped back, to allow elections, and accept the powerful influence of the opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. See EUAustralia Online, “Aung San Suu Kyi: free and in Europe”, 18.6.12).

The European Union which took a lead in imposing sanctions or restrictions on the regime, while it held the opposition leader in detention, has suspended several of those now, in step with Australia and a host of other countries — and the pressure is on to enter Myanmar to do business and lend a hand.

A key listening post for Myanmar has always been the neighbouring state of Thailand, and as Laura Ludwig reports from Bangkok, there is now optimism for the future, tinged with some concern about how well, or badly, things could still go.

EVEN TOO MUCH?

Experienced government and NGO leaders who have worked in Myanmar for a long time say there could be even too much interest from outside at this moment.

The number of global donors is growing fast, looking to invest in the revitalisation of Myanmar, after its decades of relative isolation.

The “old hands” who did the hard yards, standing up for human rights, persecuted ethnic minorities, or the poor, are starting to look askance, as potential investors and aid workers roll in. Large numbers of outsiders are entering almost on a daily basis.

PROBLEMS MAKING A CHANGE

Problems with it may be: the government is immature in the handling of relations with people from outside; priorities can get confused, for instance with money starting to go to major infrastructure works, while needed smaller-scale projects, like a water purity scheme or sanitation, are still having to wait; initiatives can over-lap far too much.

burma-aung-pbs7.jpgAung San Suu Kyi (picture) has made her famous appeal for a focus on measures like vocational training, to put the emphasis on providing jobs.

BUSINESS ON THE MOVE

EUAustralia heard this week that traders from the European Union would be wasting no time, now that sanctions were suspended, especially those on: trade in natural resources;  operations by certain companies or industries; and travel by named Myanmar officials. While a lot of trade did happen in former times, it was kept “off the radar”; there was a stigma to it, and that has now gone.

In Bangkok, the President of the European-ASEAN Business Centre, Rolf-Dieter Daniel, recently took representatives of 40 German companies into Myanmar.

“There is great potential there as it has many resources that other nations want and need”, he said, listing products that ranged from agriculture and previous stones, through to petroleum.

“It’s not there yet, not at all, but it is a big opportunity”, he said.

A NEW DRIVE ON AID

Aid projects stand to grow in tandem with commercial growth.

In the case of the EU, Article 8 of its own guidelines on restrictions spelt out that work could only be on specific projects, as against deeper and on-going structural undertakings – and that’s all changed.

“We can now channel funds into the government; we can design and implement our own schemes”, said a field officer from one of the EU member states.

“The donors want to do the right thing, but this aim is challenged by the expertise levels in the country and the new government.

“They want reform now and everything to happen fast.”

Only recently the European Commission pledged €80-million (A$ 99-million; xe.com, 30.6.12) in aid, over the coming two years; more than it spent during the 20 years before.

HEALTH, SCHOOLS, JOBS – AND FEELING SAFE

With other donors, its new focus will provide a fund for health support and food, education, and security.

The health program is a collaboration with six donors, and will be a four year investment extending to €300-million (A$371-million), during 2012 -2016.

A Quality Basic Education Program will be a three-year investment of €62-million (A$76.6-million), with five donors, 2012-2015.

Also, funding will be increased to the Aid to Uprooted People initiative, which provides already much of the support needed by 140000 refugees from the Myanma military regime, still living in camps along the Thai border. There’ll be a drive in that area to reassure the people that they can now safely return to their homes.

Australia, which has gone further in fully lifting sanctions, as against a more cautious suspension, is working with the EU,  in the education area in particular.

LOCAL ACTORS FOR CHANGE

Helping the people in the border camps is a pressing bilateral issue for Myanmar and Thailand, with those governments, and their international partners, now engaged in so-called “trust building” exercises, so they can work towards closing the camps, as a priority.

Auni San Suu Kyi, as leader of the National League for Democracy definitely had a decisive impact on the climate in Myanmar.

Said one worker, returning from the most recent of many visits:  “You used to be in trouble if you carried her picture in your pocket but now her pictures and parts of her speeches are everywhere, and in the media, so she may have helped in a very large way — but now EU businesses, too, are already ready to come to the table.”

“There is now more excitement and more hope for the country; I am very happy to see this occurring.”

Myanmar, for very long ranked as the world’s most risky place to do trade, is coming out of the cold, and entering into the area of a new kind of risk.  It is, that in thinking about becoming bigger investors there, companies will have to consider that the more they hesitate, the more they have to lose.

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