MIFER Union Minister U Thaung Tun speaks at Singapore Summit 2019

Statement by H.E. U Thaung Tun, Union Minister for MIFER at the Singapore Summit 2019

At the Singapore Summit 2019 held in the Shangri-La Hotel on 21 September, H.E. U Thaung Tun delivered a statement and participated in a dialogue moderated by conference chairman Mr. Ho Kwon Ping, Executive Chairman of Banyan Tree Holdings.

Singapore Summit 2019

21 September 2019

Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore

Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure and great personal honour to be here with you today. I would like to thank the government and people of Singapore for inviting me to the Summit and for the warm hospitality accorded to me. Since 2012, this forum has provided an unparalleled opportunity for senior government officials and business leaders from around the world to discuss global trends.

This year we are meeting at a time when dark clouds of trade tensions between the world’s two largest economies pose an ominous threat to global trade and investment.

Today, I would like to offer a uniquely Myanmar-perspective on the challenges and opportunities before us.

I aim to provide an insight as to how Myanmar is addressing many of the global trends now shaping realities at home and abroad.

Excellencies, Distinguished Guests:

We live in a world of change. Thriving amidst change is never easy – and is perhaps harder now than ever before.

The multilateral economic order that provided stability and predictability faces a decline in trust, as do the global institutions which underpinned it. The very concept of globalization as a process of international integration is being challenged. Multilateralism is being countered by a regression back to bilateralism. Liberalism is defied by protectionism.

Rigid plans and strategies are quickly rendered irrelevant by powerful global headwinds. Threats in various forms are today harder to detect, and thus harder to prepare for.

As a result, our future is much less clearly defined.

Yet, this new operating environment also presents us with opportunities– no more so than in Asia.

‘Asia’ has become an economic force to be reckoned with – a growth engine of the global economy.

It is projected that our region’s GDP will double over the decade to come, driven by rising affluence and expanding urbanization. These same forces will enable the emergence of one billion new middle-class consumers, creating huge demand for goods and services.

In 2002, one in two of our people were poor. Today, it is less than one in eight.

Indeed, the pendulum is swinging back to Asia. Despite the inevitable uncertainties in patterns of global growth, we can be certain rising Asia will continue to be a pivotal economic force.

In this respect, I believe we do face the future from a position of relative strength, and it is in this context that we meet today.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

As Asia is changing, Myanmar is likewise undergoing a period of significant change and transformation.

Today we rank amongst ASEAN’s fastest-growing economies – with GDP rising from just US$8.9 billion in 2000 to over US$71 billion in 2018.

Our 53 million people are spread across a landmass twice the size of Malaysia or Viet Nam, with an economy expanding between six and seven per cent over much of the past decade. According to Asian Development Bank, Myanmar’s economy is expected to grow by 6.6 % this year and 6.8 % in the coming year.

This growth has been channeled in ways that have facilitated an unprecedented structural shift in Myanmar’s economy – effectively halving the number of our people living below the poverty line. This newfound economic vibrancy is visible in rural and urban areas alike.

Myanmar is also, once again, integrated into today’s globalized world. This includes interacting with, and being impacted by the powerful forces, both visible and hidden, which shape it.

The challenge for our newly democratic nation is how best to take advantage of this period of growth and dynamic change.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Myanmar today is a vastly different country compared to what it was just a decade ago. It is pursuing broad-based and inclusive growth strategies, bolstered by a major investment promotion drive.

Guiding these efforts is our new Myanmar Sustainable Development Plan (MSDP) – a comprehensive, forward-looking social, economic and environmental reform agenda fully aligned with the 2030 agenda for sustainable development.

This national development plan has enabled us to embark upon a new and exciting phase in our country’s development while offering a unifying and coherent roadmap for all future reforms – in line with regional and global commitments, and in accordance with liberal economic principles.

It is through this plan that we will strive to address global challenges we face, including those related to poverty, climate change, trade and investment.

As part of this push, we continue to promote a more favourable, friendly and predictable investment enabling environment, offering investors a fair and level and playing field upon which to compete.

By doing so, we seek to attract the type of investment that creates jobs and opportunities for those who seek it – sustaining growth and spreading prosperity.

We have recently opened our retail, wholesale, education, banking and insurance sectors to foreign investment.

We are doing away with unnecessary regulations – having launched a new and fully digitalized online business registration portal known as MyCO. A process that once took 14 steps has been reduced to one. A process that once took weeks has been reduced to a single minute.

We’ve also formed a new investment-focused Ministry, which I am proud to lead.

We’ve launched a new Investment Promotion Plan and are nearing completion of a new Land Bank that will provide clarity and assurances regarding land ownership while simplifying investor access to land for industrial and commercial purposes.

[Recent reforms to electricity tariffs have allowed the government to ramp up spending on power generation while also removing key obstacles to attracting investors into this critically important sector.]

We have also put into place or updated a vast majority many of central laws and policies required to sustain what is being called a ‘second wave of reform’.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

We have moved ahead with a new initiative we refer to as our Project Bank – a rolling databank consisting of major, transformative projects that have been screened, appraised and prioritized such that they are ready for investment and implementation in the most transparent manner.

At the same time, we recognize that major regulatory and institutional reforms are required to make priority infrastructure projects more attractive to investors.

That is why we have established a new Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) Centre, mandated to facilitate and implement PPPs, develop concrete criteria upon which appropriate types of Government support may be provided for these projects, and to assess the potential areas where the privatization of State Economic Enterprises may yield profitable results.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

As the implementation of our national development plan goes ahead, new opportunities are being created for business to contribute to Myanmar’s economic development through responsible investment. [In this regard, respect for human rights must be seen as more than simply a matter of compliance or risk management – they must become and remain an integral part of doing business in Myanmar.]

The Project Bank, the Land Bank and MSDP, as well as a range of other essential laws and policies, reinforce this message – ensuring that our private sector serves as the engine of environmentally conscious and socially responsible economic growth in years to come.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

While blessed with abundant natural resources including fertile land and fresh water, Myanmar’s geography exposes us to extreme weather events – exacerbated by a changing climate – with dire consequences for life and livelihoods.

While some of the challenges we face today are rooted in geography, it is true, many are also the result of historical mismanagement of our nation’s water and natural resources.

At the same time, with the world’s population set to triple by 2050 – a majority of whom will reside in Asia -challenges associated with ensuring one of mankind’s most basic needs: food security, cannot be overlooked.

Myanmar was once referred to as the “Granary of Asia”. We seek to reclaim this title. In this regard, Myanmar is committed to revitalizing our nation’s agro-industrial sector and to developing a regional centre of excellence with respect to water management.

Excellencies, Distinguished Guests:

The 3rd Industrial Revolution made possible the disruptive technologies that now enable our transition into its 4th iteration. As we make this transition, all countries will be subject to disruption – social, economic, political, environmental, digital and technological.

Myanmar fully supports the free flow of ideas, talent, technology and trade within Asia and between Asia and the rest of the world and believes that those who will prosper during this transition will be those that are able to swim with the tide, not against it.

[As a member of ASEAN, Myanmar participates in all intra-ASEAN agreements as well as multilateral free trade agreements with Australia, New Zealand, China, India, Japan and South Korea. In accordance with the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement, Myanmar is reducing its tariff rate to 0.5 per cent. In the areas of non-tariff measures, Myanmar is lowest in ASEAN countries.

The AEC Blueprint 2025, the master plan that guides ASEAN’s further economic integration agenda after the formal establishment of the AEC, explicitly recognizes “a Global ASEAN” as one of its characteristics. The new Blueprint outlines a more pronounced external economic relations strategy going beyond just free trade agreements to also look at strengthening strategic engagement with regional and global partners, adopting common positions in regional and global fora, enhancing engagement with non- FTA partners, supporting multilateral trading system and promoting engagement with global and regional institutions.

ASEAN has also taken on a more proactive role in shifting the geo-political economy which has led to a change in the proponents of the markets and multilateral trading system. In this, ASEAN reinforces its centrality in the emerging regional economic architecture through the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) with its six FTA partners (16 countries). Upon successful conclusion of the RCEP, we will see the

creation of the world’s largest trade bloc, covering almost half of the world’s population, almost a third of global trade and output and a fifth of global FDI flows. (1)]

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Today I have outlined several of the major reforms Myanmar is now pursuing in order to prepare our nation for this next stage of transition. But there is much left to be done.

Here I can do no better than to quote State Counsellor Daw Aung Suu Kyi who has [delivered an] address at the Singapore lecture last year said, “Our journey is not a simple journey. It is an adventure; an adventure into the unknown future. It is an adventure in which we are all taking part. We have many challenges to face, many weaknesses that we must address. But we have confidence; confidence in the ability of our people, and in the capacity of our people to grow into these challenges”.

Before I conclude, let me leave you with three thoughts:

First, we must increase our focus on research and development, and remain open to investment with a particular focus on technology and skills transfer and skills.

Once a destination for Singaporean students studying to become doctors, today Myanmar lags behind our peers in the adoption of key technologies and dissemination of knowledge

– both necessary drivers which will enable Myanmar to take quantum leaps into the 21st century.

When speaking of Singapore’s own experience moving from third world to first, it was His Excellency the late Lee Kwan Yew who noted that:

“…the decisive factors were the people, their natural abilities, education and training. Knowledge and the possession of technology were vital for the creation of wealth.”

We must all be guided by these words – and fully support our nations’ creative industries, encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship. Reform initiatives must begin in the classroom and follow the individual into the workplace, leading to a more vibrant, innovative and competitive private and public sector.

Second, as our region becomes increasingly reliant on new technology, the nature of these private and public sector jobs will change fundamentally.

While some had forecast that the rise of automation and AI might serve as a ‘job killer’, more recent studies suggest that a majority of firms within the region do not expect AI to significantly replace human labour.

As they say, the invention of the spreadsheet sheet did not kill off accountants, it helped to make good accountants even better! To prosper we must find ways for humans and machines to work together, each playing to their respective strengths.

Third, in addressing these and all other challenges I have noted today, the private sector has an essential role to play. However, for the private sector to compete successfully, it will require bold, forward-thinking, responsive governments willing and able to take the first steps.

In doing so, we cannot be distracted by fear of the unknown. We must design our policy and institutional response in ways that embrace change. We must develop the ability to bend the arc of history in favour of peace and prosperity.

This is what we are seeking to do in Myanmar. Thank you.


(1) Remarks of Deputy Secretary-General of ASEAN for ASEAN Economic Community at the Asia House Signature Conference, Hong Kong, 27 November 2017.

Speech provided courtesy of Singapore Summit

Photo credit: Singapore Summit Facebook

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