SINGAPORE: Myanmar hopes to overtake Singapore's economy in 20 years' time and the country is hoping that Singapore will lend a helping hand, said Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday (Nov 30).
Speaking at the IE Singapore's Global Conversations business dialogue, Ms Suu Kyi, who is in Singapore for a three-day official visit, said this in reference to a quote by the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew.
"At the beginning of Singapore's independence, the then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew said that in 20 years’ time, Singapore would have caught up with Burma," she said. "I think we have to change that a bit and say: In 20 years’ time, Myanmar will have overtaken Singapore and you will help us to do that because success in one part of the region means success throughout the region and we have never found it difficult to engage with Singapore economically.”
For a long time, the Southeast Asian country has been “held back by different factors” and “left behind” by its Southeast Asian neighbours, according to the 71-year-old. Moving forward, Ms Suu Kyi hopes that the country can become more vibrant, on both the political and economic fronts, and it is looking to Singapore to help it achieve that.
“Politics and business cannot be separated particularly at this time when we are trying to make our country not just united and peaceful, but also prosperous,” she said. “For that, we look to you to advise us, to work together with us and to make our country vibrant, not just politically but also economically.”
OUR HUMAN CAPITAL WILL BE ATTRACTIVE FOR SINGAPORE: SUU KYI
As Myanmar looks to attract more Singapore businesses to set up shop in the country, Ms Suu Kyi sought to give businesses assurance on Wednesday by raising the example of the new Myanmar Investment Law, which include changes in incentives in the areas of income tax exemptions and land use.
The new law, which is a combination of the previous Myanmar Citizen’s Investment Law and the Foreign Investment Law, is expected to come into force in April 2017.
“Our new investment law is intended to be business friendly and we hope the new procedures that we are putting in place can make it much easier for you to go about your businesses in security… You will not be deprived of your businesses unjustly, unexpectedly, directly or indirectly,” she said.
“This is an assurance that businesses will like to have and we are happy to give them this assurance.”
She also told business representatives who attended the dialogue session that human capital is the country’s attractive factor. To prepare its workforce for “whatever challenges the future may hold”, Myanmar has made vocational training one of the key pillars of its education system, she explained.
Mr Mark Lee, CEO of apparel manufacturer Sing Lun Holdings, told Channel NewsAsia that Myanmar’s large, young and educated population is one of the reasons why the company is keen to make a move into the country.
The homegrown firm, which counts popular brands such as The North Face and Under Armour among its clients, operates 13 manufacturing and sourcing facilities across Asia. Vietnam is currently one of its main manufacturing bases and Mr Lee said the company is keeping Myanmar on its radar as it plans for the future.
“There is, of course, some unrest but as a whole, if you look at the macroeconomic factors such as a large population that’s adequately educated and a DNA for artisan work, I think it’s still viable,” he said.
Ms Suu Kyi emphasised that she hoped investments from Singapore can create job opportunities for Myanmar nationals, citing job creation as "the most important part” of the country’s economic policy.
"Without job creation, there can be no shiny future for our young people," she said. "And unemployment is the greatest challenge we have to face. Unemployed youth… (are) a potential threat to the stability of our society… So we hope hope the kind of investments that Singapore has in mind will create jobs and teach our people to improve their skills.”
She added: "Singapore has a high-developed market economy, and is known as one of the most innovative, competitive and business-friendly nations. We want to learn from you. We want our people to be innovative and competitive but in a healthy way.”
MUCH POTENTIAL FOR STRONGER ECONOMIC TIES: LIM HNG KIANG
Minister for Trade and Industry (Trade) Lim Hng Kiang, who was at the business dialogue session, said Myanmar and Singapore enjoy a long-standing and strong bilateral economic relationship, but that there was much potential for these economic ties to grow.
"Amidst the uncertainties of today’s global environment, Myanmar is a bright and promising spot in a vibrant Southeast Asia," the trade minister said.
Mr Lim noted that the Myanmar government has "moved decisively" to improve the country's business environment since taking office in March. Steps taken include the unveiling of the government's 12-point economic plan and the passing of a revised Myanmar Investment Law, he noted.
The Myanmar government is also in the process of revising the Myanmar Companies Act and developing the Yangon Stock Exchange. "Businesses are watching the passage and implementation of these laws," Mr Lim said.
In 2015, Myanmar was Singapore's 28th largest trading partner, with total trade at S$3.57 billion, while Singapore was Myanmar’s third-largest trading partner. As of end-October 2016, the city-state was the second-biggest investor in Myanmar with a cumulative investment of US$15.6 billion (about S$22.2 billion), coming behind China (US$18.5 billion).