YANGON, Myanmar – Businessmen in this Southeast Asian country are counting on the entry of Philippine investments here to help move their economy forward.
Dr. Maung Maung Lay Lay, vice-president of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce & Industry (UMFCCI), which groups 26,000 members and 69 affiliate organizations, said this would be a “win-win situation” for both Myanmar and the Philippines.
Reeling from a half century of military rule, Myanmar has dramatically fallen behind its peers in the region. Its economy grew by an average of five percent in the last five years, picking up only last year with a 6.3 percent clip.
Lay said Myanmar needs foreign investors, including Philippine companies to move the economy forward and help prepare it for the Asean Economic Community (AEC) in 2015.
Lay noted for instance that the Philippines has one of the cheapest mobile phone systems in the region and welcomed potential investments in the telecommunications sector.
In mining, Lay said their country also needs investments.
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“They are our partners. But we also have to make sure they don’t just extract our resources and leave it at that,” he said.
The Philippines, which posted the highest first quarter economic growth in the region at 7.8 percent, has been dubbed by Standard & Poor’s, a credit rating agency, as the new leader in Asean.
In June, President Aquino said after the World Economic Forum for East Asia held here that three Philippine companies, all headed by corporate tycoon Manuel V. Pangilinan, are eyeing to invest in the telecommunications, water and sanitation, and energy sectors in Myanmar.
Pangilinan, whose company owns mobile phone giant Smart Communications, announced in April that he is considering teaming up with local partners in Myanmar for a shot at a potentially lucrative market.
“If we want to enter Myanmar’s telecommunications market we have to partner with any of the qualified bidders because we can’t do it on our own,” Pangilinan said, referring to bidders vying for the telecommunications market in Myanmar.
Pangilinan’s other businesses, power utility firm Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) and Maynilad Water Services Inc., a water concessionaire, are also open to partnering with Myanmar businessmen for possible joint venture deals.
“We welcome them, indeed. It’s a very warm welcome. We share common goals, common faith and common aspirations. We wish to share together and it will be a win-win for all our countries,” Lay said.
Myanmar President Thein Sein issued the same message back in June when he said his country is seeking the assistance of the Philippine government in the energy and agriculture sectors.
Last year, the two countries agreed to improve bilateral relations in business following a meeting between Philippine Vice President Jejomar Binay and Myanmar President Sein on the sidelines of the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit. In the area of agriculture, the Philippines agreed to help Myanmar by sharing banana and rice technologies.
The rice industry in Myanmar needs all the help it can get, said Pyae Sone Oo, a rice trader.
Myanmar, which exported 700,000 tons of rice across the border last year based on data from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), could benefit from better technology, post-harvest facilities and training of farmers, he said.
Lay said all the investments they can get from regional peers would help them prepare for the AEC, just one and a half years away.
He said that compared to its peers in the region, Myanmar still has a long way to go to catch up.
“We are lightweight compared to the heavyweights in the region. Our fundamentals are not strong. Our banking system is weak,” he said.
“It (the AEC) has made us a bit jittery. We are not ready for the big event there is fear but we can learn from you guys. We look forward to working together,” he said.
The AEC is envisioned to be the goal of regional economic integration by 2015. It hopes to create a single market and production base and a competitive region that is fully integrated into the global economy.
Lay said Myanmar’s transition to an open economy is happening fast.