Invest Myanmar Summit

私营部门视角 – 如何吸引外国投资到缅甸

Myanmar’s recent transition out of five decades of economic and political isolation provides an opportunity for the country to secure much needed investment to build basic infrastructure for its citizens and facilitate growth in its fast-growing sectors. 

Such projects will require massive amounts of capital and specialised expertise, and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) will be an important source of capital, technology and knowledge in these endeavours. 

Below is the full transcript of the closing panel of the Invest Myanmar Summit 2019.

Invest Myanmar Summit 2019

29 January 2019

Myanmar International Convention Centre – 2 (MICC- 2)

Thiri Thant Mon, Country Representative Myanmar, CDC Group  

Good afternoon Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen. First of all, thank you for staying till the end. I’d like to just introduce myself, and then also introduce our panel. My name is Thiri Thant Mon, and I am the country representative for the CDC Group, which is a UK government development financial institution. We invest in private sector businesses, so myself moderating this panel hopefully is relevant for the topic of the panel itself.

In Myanmar, we’ve just started investing. We currently have an investment in a telecom towers company, and also we invest indirectly through private equity firms that also invest in local businesses.

The topic of the panel is the Private Sector Perspective, and obviously with all the people present in this room who are from the private sector – investors from international countries as well as investors who are already present here, and local investors – so I am delighted that we have an excellent panel here.

We have four very distinguished individuals who’ve been present in the country for a long time and doing meaningful investment, so I hope to do them justice and do you justice for sacrificing part of your lunch hour to listen to us.

So what we will do is hopefully have a lively discussion of all the panelists here sharing their experiences in the country, and also sharing their reflections on what the country has gone through, and hopefully also some advice for the country itself to keep attracting foreign investment.

What I’d like to do first is for each of the panelists to introduce themselves briefly, and also introduce what they are doing in the country. Because everybody, as I have mentioned, is doing quite significant investments here, and then we will start a discussion. So, I’ll just go in sequence. Vikram, if you won’t mind starting, thank you.

Vikram Kumar, Country Manager for Myanmar and Thailand, International Finance Corporation (Mr. Kumar)

Thanks, Thiri. My name is Vikram Kumar – I am the IFC (International Finance Corporation) Country Manager for Myanmar and Thailand. I’ve lived in Myanmar for over five years now, so I can say I am somewhat knowledgable about the country, although there are lots to learn, even for somebody like me. And I think the journey is a long one as far as Myanmar is concerned. A lot needs to be done, but I am very happy to be here.

We are today the largest foreign financial investor in the country with a total portfolio of about USD $1.6 billion. We’ve had the opportunity to work with the Government, not just on the investment side through PPPs, but also through advisory operations with many people who are actually in the room, trying to build capacity and promote private sector development in the country. Thank you.

Serge Pun @ U Theim Wai, Vice Chairman and CEO, New Yangon Development Company Limited (Mr. Pun)

Good morning. My name is Theim Wai, also known as Serge Pun. I’m here today in two capacities: one as the Vice Chairman and CEO of the New Yangon Development Corporation, and in my own capacity, as the Executive Chairman of Yoma Group. I’ve been around for a long time. Thank you.

Yuan Shaobin, the Executive President of CITIC Myanmar(Hong Kong) Holding Limited. and the Managing Director of CITIC Group (Myanmar) Co., Ltd. (Mr. Yuan)

Good afternoon. I think it’s 12 o’clock now, so good afternoon to all the distinguished guests. Thank you to the honourable moderator for giving me a chance to participate in the panel . I am Yuan Shaobin from China CITIC Group. CITIC Group is the largest state-owned comprehensive company in China, and it was just established from 1979 by the Chinese, as a window of China reforming and opening to the world. So it is just past 40 years, and the total assets is about USD $1 trillion so we are here. We were awarded as the winner of Kyaukphyu SEZ’s development, the deep sea port and the fishery parks. We hope, day by day, as we start the site project, we can create more jobs and to create more opportunities for all the investors. So we do hope that. Thank you very much.

Kunio Negishi, Chairman, Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Myanmar (Mr. Negishi)

Good afternoon, my name is Kunio Negishi, I am the General Manager of Marubeni Corporation’s Branch Office. Marubeni is a Japanese trading and investment company – we [have been] operating in Myanmar since 77 years ago. Marubeni is investing – we are a shareholder in the Thilawa SEZ. Thanks to the environment, Thilawa SEZ is quite good. As of yesterday, it’s [indistinct].

Also, I am the Chairman of the Japan Chamber of Commerce in Myanmar, JCCM. In 2011, only about 7, 8 years ago, JCCM members was only 52. This year, members increased to 384 companies. Thank you very much

Thiri Thant Mon

Thank you very much distinguished panelists. I feel that this Summit has gone very well, and as the closing panel of the Summit, I feel very positive that we can discuss about actual investments that are happening in the country.  I feel that the Government has – with this Summit, the creation of the new Ministry, and all the messages that have been given by all the Excellencies – have signalled that Myanmar is indeed open for business.

In that, I’d like to start with just the opportunities for Myanmar. I think we have talked about the opportunities and the potential for this country for quite some time, and there are now investors on the stage that are realising and grabbing these opportunities. So I just want to start with Vikram, because as you’ve mentioned you have deployed USD $1.6 billion into the country, all of that I believe is into the private sector businesses, and also across quite a few different industries, so I’d like to hear your thoughts and experiences so far, how you’ve seen the country work on these investments and also how you’ve seen your investment portfolio developing.

Mr. Kumar

Thank you. It’s an interesting question. When I came in about five years back, this was a very different environment, and actually a lot of people in the room, familiar faces to me, interestingly. I was scanning the room and I was seeing a lot of the “culprits” that are still around, which is heartening to see. For us as a development institution, it’s our job to be in markets like Myanmar, which are opening up and need help. In a perfectly functioning financial sector market environment, honestly we are  not needed.

But there was a role we played at that point in time – we invested heavily in the private sector, and I have seen it’s natural tendency to work with partners, international firms – bring them to some of the tougher markets, you know, because with capital, with FDI comes expertise, which I think Myanmar needed, and still continues to need a lot of today. And that is a strategy that has worked for us in many, many countries across the world.

What we try to do differently in Myanmar, and which I’m personally excited about and I believe in, is that we wanted to invest in the Myanmar private sector. Because we believed if change and development capacity has to be permanent, it has to be  the local private sector that has to step up. The local private sector’s perception of risk environment is very different from an international investor.

If you’re able to support local companies – which is harder to do for sure, because the risk is higher, and the expertise may not be up to the mark –  but what is required is governance, what is required is the willingness to commit to long-term sustainability, not just profitability but also the environment, and the people around them. The choice of investors around them – I think FMI – Yoma Strategic is one of our clients, CityMart is one of our clients, we have the Shwe Taung Group as a client, Myanma Awba Group… I think the stars of Myanmar’s private sector have actually benefited, and we have benefited from our partnerships with some of these firms. And I think the idea is to take a lot of these groups to the next level in terms of finance-ability, in terms of performance, in terms of integration with the regional champions, because that’s the opportunity for Myanmar.

The fundamental challenge for Myanmar – and I am very heartened by H.E U Set Aung’s presentation – because that has been the missing link. The Ministers, the Government, the State Counsellor, everybody understands the need. The need is for investment in infrastructure, not just physical infrastructure, it’s financial infrastructure, the banking system, and the human infrastructure, which is capacity. And laying it out through this Project Bank mechanism is fabulous. I think it really gives private investors clarity on the roadmap, and as he said the fortune teller part of the business is now taken care of by U Set Aung’s office. And that has been the Joker in the bag right? All of us knows this is a great project, but the devil is in the details, and execution has failed. And that’s why if you look at infrastructure investments in Myanmar over the last few years, they have been declining.

If the infrastructure is not there, which again means physical and financial, then industries will not come, the private sector will not develop and jobs will not be created, so that is a vicious cycle. So I think for us, as a development institution, it is not just to promote PPPs. I think PPPs are important, and again H.E. U Set Aung has mentioned the need to examine why PPPs are needed. For me, funding is part of the story, but a bigger part of the story is what does the private sector bring? Is it the improvement in efficiency; is it a reduction in cost? And yes if it does, then a PPP definitely makes sense. Again, he has laid it out very clearly, and I am a big fan of that structure and that mechanism in place, and if you’re able to execute on this blueprint, then money will flow.

And that’s why if you look at infrastructure investments in Myanmar over the last few years, they have been declining. If the infrastructure is not there, which again means physical and financial, then industries will not come, the private sector will not develop and jobs will not be created, so that is a vicious cycle. So I think for us, as a development institution, it is not just to promote PPPs. I think PPPs are important, and again H.E. U Set Aung has mentioned the need to examine why PPPs are needed. For me, funding is part of the story, but a bigger part of the story is what does the private sector bring? Is it the improvement in efficiency; is it a reduction in cost? And yes if it does, then a PPP definitely makes sense. Again, he has laid it out very clearly, and I am a big fan of that structure and that mechanism in place, and if you’re able to execute on this blueprint, then money will flow.

Investors are not concerned about risk, investors are concerned about structuring in a manner where adequate risks are transferred to the Government, and adequate risk is left to the private sector, and i think striking the right balance is very important. I have a USD $1.6 billion portfolio, I invested in a Myanmar opportunity. But opportunity is a function of potential, and a realisation of that potential, and I think the potential is obvious, and the realisation is where a lot of hard work still has to be done. Thank you.

Thiri Thant Mon

And we are very grateful for the way you are paving for other private investors to come in as well. So Vikram touched on infrastructure, and that’s what I’d like to spend a few moments discussing. And I’d like to turn to Mr. Yuan. Because you are taking care of a very large infrastructure project – the Kyaukphyu deep sea port which you bidded [for] as a private sector investor. Curious to know your experience so far on that, and what you think something like Kyaukphyu would bring to the country, as well as to yourself as a private investor.

Mr Yuan

Thank you very much. Yes, as you know, we [won the right to be] the Kyaukphyu SEZ  developer. So we also are a foreign investor for infrastructure. For the past four years, we have been discussing with the government the basic models, and I do think – when I visited the site, there was a lack of infrastructure.

There was no condition for private [sector] to do business. So if we improve the deep sea port, if we improve the infrastructure like we will have power, road, water supply and systems, I think it will make the Kyaukphyu area more attractive for private investors. If we realise this, and we have the National Expressway connecting let’s say, Kyaukphyu to Nay Pyi Taw, we will create more jobs for private investors. And to create more jobs, i think it would help Rakhine State to improve. I do think we need these kinds of infrastructure investments. Right now. this kind of investors [are] too less, so we need more.

I do think for the Myanmar Government and also for the communities to think how to make the whole country welcom[ing], to show there’s nothing to fear, to show the foreign investor they are welcome, let them feel that to come here and invest here, that we can make a profit, to really realise the win-win model. I do think via negotiation; we do think we can realise the Kyaukphyu project could be a model as a sector output – infrastructure. It can be a model for foreign-investor projects. Thank you very much.

Thiri Thant Mon

Thank you very much, and we are all looking forward to the Kyaukphyu industrial zone and the special economic zone coming up. And of course when we think about SEZs, one special economic zone that is already up and running is the Thilawa Special Economic Zone. And Mr. Negishi, as Marubeni is involved in Thilawa, and I understand there is more companies coming in – can you discuss what makes Thilawa so successful and what’s the future for it?

Mr. Negishi

Thilawa SEZ started operations four years ago, and Zone A, four hundred hectares, is almost sold out. Zone B has good sales. It’s quite remarkable, the aggressive speed, and a great success, all things considered.  There are some reasons behind the success: three reasons I think.

First, location – Thilawa SEZ’s location is quite good because it’s quite close to the biggest market, Yangon City. Second, thanks to the grant provided by the Myanmar government, the one-stop service centre is quite effective.  When we need to get a permit or license, we don’t need to go to several places. We just need to go to one desk, and everything can be completed. It’s perfect for operations.

But the most important thing is the third point: infrastructure, like the power, bridges, port, roads, water…everything being prepared by the Japanese ODA money. And it encouraged foreign businesses to come to Thilawa. In Thilawa, only 100 companies are coming, and it made big job creation. I feel the second wave is coming. The first wave was when it was opening. At that time, many foreign companies showed interest in Thilawa, and the Thilawa SEZ was delegated for manufacturing. But because at that time, many companies opened factories in Thilawa for just assembling and repacking.

But since last year February, the power supply has improved, and that’s why many manufacturing companies are showing interest in Thilawa, like JFE Steel – they are now building a factory for the government steel bridge. So Thilawa can be a reference for future success[ful] Myanmar economic zones. Thank you very much.

Thiri Thant Mon

Thank you very much, Mr. Negishi. I would like to turn to Uncle Serge in your capacity as the CEO of the New Yangon City Development Committee. It’s a very bold project by the Government, and we saw the presentation yesterday during the Yangon Regional Government session on what NYDC is planning to achieve. Even Phase One itself is very large.

I understand that this is quite a novel approach by the Government so I’d love if you can explain to the audience here what the objectives of the NYDC are, and what that means largely going beyond Yangon to the rest of the country.

Mr. Pun

Thank you Thiri. NYDC is significant in a few fronts: the first is the necessity to build a new city in Yangon. I think that necessity has been highlighted in the World Bank report whereby 2030, the population of Yangon will be actually far more than what the current Yangon city can actually accommodate. So there is a real need for Yangon City to expand, to develop. So that’s number one.

But more important than that, I think the fundamental KPI that has been given to NYDC by the Yangon Regional Government and by the National Government is that New Yangon City is supposed to create two million new jobs. Now, this is two million new jobs that are not substituting current jobs, these are newly created new jobs. So if you consider the entire population today in this country that stands at about seven million, then creating 2 million new jobs is quite a tall order. But if you take a logical approach to analyse this, two million jobs actually means, in essence, 1,000 factories, each employing 2,000 workers, and that is two million. If you were to go to South China and count the number of factories that employ more than 2,000 workers, you’ll find it in thousands. So to create an industrial manufacturing base, consisting of 1,000 factories, each employing 2,000 workers is not that much of a tall order.

The key is whether or not we can provide the environment, the enabling factor, for these 1,000 factories to come in. And I am of the view that the first 3000 factories will be the challenge. When the first 3000 factories move in and start producing, the remaining 700 factories will be gatecrashing to come into Myanmar. So it’s highly important for us to ensure that the first wave of manufacturing entities to move into this new Yangon City is successful. We happen to be in a very fortunate time.

The recent step between America and China over trade has sort of propelled a lot of companies in China – manufacturing companies, in particular, to quickly go and find alternative destinations in order to avoid becoming the collateral damage in this trade dispute, and today there are 4 countries in Asia that genuinely qualify as alternate destinations. These 4 countries happen to be Cambodia, Laos, Bangladesh, and Myanmar. Even Vietnam is not even in competition with us, because the current labour cost in Vietnam has already ascended to a level that is not comparable or competitive. And Vietnam has already had its great economic boom in the last 5 years, So we are essentially competing with Cambodia, Laos, and Bangladesh, and there is a finite window in terms of timing to enable us to capture this migration of manufacturing facilities. So New Yangon City happens to fall at the right time and the right place with the right plan.

The second thing I want to raise is that NYDC is probably the first time the Myanmar government has adopted a different model of how to do a government project. It is based firmly on the philosophy and business model of relying on private enterprise. Just to give you some numbers, I would estimate the initial infrastructure cost to build New Yangon City is approximately 5 billion US dollars. And yet NYDC has a paid-up capital of USD $7 million dollars. Well, the message is very clear. The government is saying, here’s USD 7 million dollars for you to start it up, and you go and find USD 4.993 million – or billion – 4,993 million somewhere to build the city. It can be done, as we will prove in a matter of weeks, that the first infrastructure project, consisting of six items, costing USD $1.68 million will be totally funded by private enterprise. No debts – we’re not borrowing a cent. 100% of that money will be equity investment.

And that is only the beginning. We still have six other major packages, where we are negotiating with investors. The 6 packages, which we announced at yesterday’s presentation, namely telecommunications or cyber connectivity backbone, public transport, affordable housing, municipal waste treatment, convention centre.

All these are part and parcel of the future immediate needs of infrastructure building. They will need a lot more money. But they will all follow the same format of having private equity investors investing in it. So it’s very significant step and I believe it can be done, so I am very bullish about the future.

And if I may just use this opportunity to give a two-minute personal view of what has happened in the last two days, I’d like to congratulate UMFCCI for organising this forum, and I would like to really congratulate our government, MIC, Ministry of Investment and Foreign Economic Relations, DICA, Ministry of Planning and Finance, for everything we’ve heard in the last two days. I am very encouraged. This forum started with a very good opening speech by the State Counsellor which set the right tone and the speech all in all was not only rhetoric, there was substance in the speech, a lot of actual action plans and a lot of directives.

The whole day yesterday was followed by ten pitches by chief ministers, which I thought was fabulous. For the first time I felt that the mood has sort of changed. The mood has reversed. Right now we have Chief Ministers coming on the stage to solicit investors to come to their states to invest. In the past, and please don’t be offended, many of our high-level ministers sit there and ask you ‘What do you want? Why are you coming to see me?’

Well that’s the big difference isn’t it? And that is the change we are looking for. And yesterday we saw that change so I am very encouraged. This morning in particular, I felt that the four speeches were fantastic. The fireside talk by Minister U Thaung Tun again gave us the reassurance what the country intends to do about real change. Director-General U Aung Naing Oo’s talk  basically highlighted the fact that if we do all the things that is already enshrined in the documents that have been passed as law and regulation, there is no reason we should be at the bottom of the Ease of Doing Business Index in the world! We should be quite high up there.

And of course, the two following speeches I am very encouraged, in particular U Set Aung’s speech. There’s a real action plan. There is a strategy, there’s a roadmap, and there’s a goal. All that’s great. So I would like to congratulate all of you.

Now, going forward, however, the challenge is how do we convert all of that into real action? Into real results? And I am going to be brave again to say that probably you will be challenged within a matter of days on your 3.5.9 where it says foreign investors, foreign banks are allowed to buy into local banks. Well we’re going to put that to challenge very soon, and see how the government reacts, right?

There will be many of these points that have been articulated by our Ministers in the last 24 hours that will be put to test, and whether it’s real or genuine or a lot of rhetoric. I am confident it’s real, because I am confident our ministers are like us. Like the private sector, very much dedicated to making this country better. And that belief, that conviction is what will guarantee us a better future in the next few years. Thank you.

Thiri Thant Mon

Thank you very much, uncle. And that was indeed very positive, and I think for all of us in this room, the conference for the last two days have signalled quite strongly that Myanmar is open for business and welcoming investment. So the sentiment is actually very good. I do want to touch on the sentiment outside, because as it was mentioned this morning, it is the elephant in the room, and it is something that should be spoken, especially for those of us who interact with Western investors, the question of Rakhine [State] comes up quite a lot. I don’t want to go through the panel in the interest of time, but just in the discussions we’ve had before this panel, we had quite an in-depth conversation about what Rakhine [State] means for foreign investments. I want to turn to you, Mr. Negishi, because Japan has been here a long time – yourselves have been here for 70 years and haven’t wavered. This is obviously a sensitive issue from a humanitarian perspective as well as a political perspective, and I understand that Japan has had some senior officials come out and go into the conflict areas. Can you just inform the audience your views on this?

Mr. Negishi

We understand there is strong pressure from the international society on the Rakhine issue, but let me explain about the state of Japan. We Japanese companies are still actively working in Myanmar, many Japanese companies are still trying to enter Myanmar, no one is discouraged by the Rakhine [State] issue because of the clear opinion of the Japanese government. Mr. Kono, our Minister of Foreign Affairs, he visited Myanmar twice, and one time, he visited Rakhine. It is very rare that our Foreign Minister visits the same country twice in a year, except USA. He visited Bangladesh also. By these three visits to Myanmar and Bangladesh, the Japanese government made a clear conclusion that this matter [is]  to be settled by two countries – international society don’t give much pressure on it.

It is the clear sentiment by the Japanese government, then our Japanese companies, we are not discouraged, we are following the Japanese government’s position. So the Japanese government also said ‘We will be together with the Myanmar people, we will support the development of this country. Our activities in this country are just in line with the intention of the Japanese government, that’s why we are freely working here.

But anyway, this matter to be settled – next month, there will be a business seminar in Rakhine State, which will be held [there]. And JICA and JETRO are supporting such activities. I think everyone will enjoy – not only the beach, but also the business discussions. Thank you very much.

Thiri Thant Mon

Thank you very much. I want to turn to you again, Uncle Serge, but with your different hat on. So as the Chairman of a number of successful conglomerates here, you’re listed as an operative Myanmar business on both the mainboard of the Singapore Stock Exchange, and Memories [Group] listed on the second board. And you have just successfully raised debt financing through the Thai Stock Exchange, and in that, I know that you have quite high-calibre quality global investors investing in both the stocks and the debt. So you’ve had many many roadshows talking about Myanmar, promoting Myanmar, not just Rakhine, just in general, what do you tell the investors about the potential of Myanmar?

Mr. Pun
We have been listed in the Singapore Mainboard now for 12 years, and we have been listed in the Capitalist board for just one year. Also been on the Yangon stock exchange for the last three years. But the recent Thai bond, that we successfully bid[ded] for in Thailand, was a very great milestone, of which we are very proud of. First, the current Ministry of Finance only approved four foreign companies for the first time to raise Thai baht-denominated bonds. And of the four companies that were approved, the others were basically sovereign funds, you know Bank of Malaysia etc. It was only Yoma Strategic that was a purely private company that was one of the four. Plus the fact that it was a company that was more or less 100% focused on Myanmar, with Myanmar activities.

So this is a breakthrough, and we are very happy about that. The second thing is that we received a triple A rating. Which is, for people who know the bond market, it is not an easy rating to achieve. It’s a triple A rating, which means it’s a very good bond. Thirdly, it’s a fully guaranteed bond and we were two and half times oversubscribed by institutional investors, so I am extremely extremely elated about all this happening.

Coming back to Rakhine, I just want to say that I am very appreciative about the Japanese government’s attitude – I am sure the Chinese government is the same, but my view is that the West and the East have two different lenses when the issue of Rakhine comes up.

To the West, Rakhine equals Myanmar, Myanmar equals Rakhine. And there is nothing else. Well I mean, that’s not very accurate. Whereas the East has another lens. And that is – Rakhine is a problem, but Rakhine is a small part of Myanmar, and there is still Myanmar left. And we should engage, and not isolate. We should help, and not punish. So because of the two fundamental difference in perspectives, I feel that the Rakhine issue, although it is an issue, is not going to be a main hindrance to our development. It is going to be an issue that will [be] solved in its good time, it is not going to be an issue that’s going to be solved overnight. And any government, any political party, any international organisation that thinks they are smart enough to solve this problem, I think, is bullshitting. It cannot be solved overnight.

It’s a historical problem, a progress problem. So we will all continue to live, prosper, develop, advance, and hopefully, in that progress the government is trying to do and what the speakers have articulated about the fact that we need to develop Rakhine, we need to give them better lives – [that] is the answer. And I am very glad that there are so many people around the world trying to support that. So in a way, I am disheartened by some of the Western rhetoric about thinking that Rakhine represents Myanmar, and because of this issue, Myanmar can be written off.  That is really, really bad political judgment.

Thiri Thant Mon

Thank you Uncle.

Mr. Yuan, I know we’ve talked about this and I won’t focus on Rakhine anymore, because we’ve talked about your view that it’s actually a development issue. And you give development, the social benefits will also come – it will be helpful. I want to talk a little bit about the enabling environment for investment in the country. You are managing a very large project – obviously the country is changing and developing and there is some teething pains, but can you share a little about – also as an experience from China, CITIC itself has been around for a long time and China has done such a miraculous growth over the last thirty, forty years, and have done so in a way that have encouraged innovation, and obviously bringing enormous benefits to the people, so what’s your advice for our government in terms of creating an enabling environment for business? And from the lessons that you have learnt from your country as well as your company investing in other countries like Myanmar around the world.

Mr. Yuan

I do think, you know, that I express my opinion, not on behalf of my government. I just think for the Rakhine issue, it is just Myanmar’s legacy. It’s a legacy, maybe I cannot say it’s good or bad, but anyway it is a legacy, and it belongs to Myanmar. It’s happened, it could be solved – I do think the politicians in Myanmar can solve all this. And also, it will happen when Myanmar develops. I do think when Rakhine State develops very fast, creating jobs, and the people’s [standard of] life will be raised, this kind of situation could be easily solved.

To create jobs, maybe we need some more people to move into Rakhine so now it’s just due to lack of opportunities, lack of jobs, so if later if we have more investors, if we create more jobs, opportunties, and the [standard of] life is raised, I do think that during the development period, it will be solved. It is a key point, i think. Thank you.

Thiri Thant Mon

Thank you very much. I want to talk – since we have quite a few Myanmar investors here – that there’s sometimes quite a misconception about what Foreign Direct Investment means, or foreigners coming into the country, and what that might mean to the country and what that might mean to local businesses. So as foreign investors – actually i’ll open the floor up to anyone who wants to answer – I believe that that is a misconception – that what is your view and how would you address these concerns by local businesses and the government that foreigners coming in might not be a good thing.

Mr. Kumar

Thanks. I have to jump in, otherwise I won’t get to talk. I agree with you Thiri, I think FDI is essential and why? In my mind, the definition of FDI is long term; it’s not money that is coming in and will leave the country tomorrow. We are looking at seven years, ten years, fifteen years, twenty years kind of investments. You have investors making the choice – ‘Do i invest in Vietnam? Do I invest in Thailand? Do I invest in Myanmar?’ as Serge mentioned earlier.

And it is a responsibility, in my view, of the government, to direct the investment. Direct the FDI into sectors where you believe there is a gap and if there is no perception of a gap, in certain sectors, in the domestic private sector where it is strong enough to meet the needs of the consumer, fine, you need to protect the domestic market, you can make choices.

But, I think in certain areas, the volume of investment is so huge that without FDI, the infrastructure cannot happen. Now, if you look at power, for example, and I keep coming back to the topic of infrastructure because that is one sector that – to be honest, I may be stirring a hornet’s nest – I’ve seen very little progress in the country, whether it’s the energy sector, the cash flow in the energy sector or investment in additional megawatts of generation or improvement in distribution…the progress has been very very slow. And that doesn’t create an opportunity for the thousand factories that Serge wants to bring in because without power, there will be no factories…there will be nothing. And i think it is the responsibility of the government to sit back and think “what we need to make this a success?” Yes it’s an investment in electricity, that’s very clear, but why is that being held up? Why can this government not progress without electricity?

The issue is bankable projects, right? Why are we not able to structure bankable projects in the electricity sector? Why are we going out with – in my view – random projects? There is a lot of advice that the bilateral and the multilateral [organisations] have given to the Government of Myanmar, and I think it’s about time that as H.E. U Set Aung mentioned, a view is taken that okay these are the three, four key projects that they believe are important, let’s structure fair concessions, let’s do competitive procurement, let’s make these projects happen.  

But without that kind of commitment and focus, I’m concerned we will have the same discussion three years down the road, and we will not have moved the needle. The needle will have to come from infrastructure, and infrastructure can come from FDI, but can also come from the domestic private sector.

Mr. Pun

My own comments on FDI: There are many types of FDI. The type of FDI that comes into the private sector to do businesses, to build hotels, to build factories, are not the ones i want to comment on. I think that’s perfectly fine. The Myanmar Investment Law, the Myanmar Companies Act take care of all of that. The FDI that is contentious today actually relates to the FDI that is in infrastructure. That is where the most contention is. There are two things to think about. One: FDI infrastructure investments are massive in capital by nature. You cannot build a road from Muse to Yangon with USD $20 million – you probably have to think in terms of USD 20 billion, so it’s massive in nature. Secondly, it doesn’t pay back fast enough. And that is typical of a lot of infrastructure projects; it takes a long time to pay back. So with these two factors, it is normally quite difficult to find willing and ready investors. Now most countries will have enough money to do less commercially viable infrastructure projects themselves, and allow the private sector to participate in more profitable, more bankable infrastructure projects.   

But the third factor that we suffer is that we don’t have enough money to do it ourselves. We do not have any reserves, simply we are not rich enough to pay 20 billion to build a road ourselves. And therefore we are forced to take on FDI, and that’s where a lot of the contentious arguments arise – are we selling away our sovereign rights? Are we giving away a lot of things? Are we getting the short end of the stick et cetera? But let me just express my own feeling to those who feel that way, just have a question – what I call an acid test “Is the infrastructure or are the infrastructure project that is in discussion something that the investor can fold up, put it in his suitcase and take away? If it cannot be done so, and if it’s going to stay in our country, and be used by our people, the whole situation should take  a different look.

At the end of the day, who is going to be the major beneficiary? That should be the key consideration – not how much who gets what. But who benefits most? So I hope this simple acid test – that whether someone can fold it up and take it away – should become one of the criteria.

The rest is all commercial common sense. The days are gone where people come and exploit other people, The days are gone where countries do quite difficult-to-understand things for political reasons. By that, i mean there was a time when China spent a lot of money in the continent of Africa for political reasons. There was a time where the United States spent a lot of money shoring up dictators all over the world to protect their political interests. These were all motivated by politics.

Today, the major motivating [factor] is commerce. Commercial, and if it’s not viable, no one is going to invest. So with that, i end my view on FDI. Thank you.

Thiri Thant Mon

Thank you. I wish that we can keep on talking, because I am learning a lot and I’m sure a lot of you are as well, but our time has come to an end. But I would like to ask each of our panelists, in no particular order, so whenever you feel ready, please could you conclude by doing two things. One is advice to the government – what would you advise our government to do to make the investment environment better and indeed to help the economy and the people; and two is your advice to other investors – it could be anything – where would you invest, what your experience has been and what they should do. I always feel that the exciting thing about Myanmar for me is that you can still be number one in any sector if you wanted to, because we still have that opportunity available to everybody. So whoever feels ready, please jump in – advice to government, and advice to other investors.

Mr. Negishi

Okay advice to government: first I would like to very much appreciate the government’s strong intention to increase the FDI and lower barriers like the Company Law – it has relaxed the consumer, wholesale industries to foreigners, but still further effort is needed. And as Mr. Kumar said, local infrastructure is key. Today, I talked with a Japanese company who is thinking about a big investment in Myanmar. But he said a problem was lack of electricity and water, so infrastructure is quite needed and it should be prepared as soon as possible. Today i was very encouraged by the sentiment from Minister Set Aung. He said for infrastructure PPPs, the risks to be shared between the private sector and the government. That is quite important, so please, please do it in such a way. This is my first message to the government.

And my advice to other foreign economic investors: I checked the market economic data of the growth of this country, especially after 2011, after the recession, and I compared the growth rate of the country with other countries like Vietnam, China or Cambodia, and the growing speed is okay, even though these two years, the economic growth has slowed down, but still, Myanmar is growing quite nicely. Like Vietnamese improvement after Doi Moi. Looking out to other countries’ growing ratio, for the first eight to ten years, growing speed is rather slow, but after that, it jumps up. So i hope Myanmar is just on the way, before landing, so after three of five years, Myanmar economy will sharply go up. That’s why my message to foreign potential investors: Come now and be prepared for a big explosion in Myanmar’s economy. Thank you.

Mr. Yuan

So I do think I agree with Mr Pun’s opinions. For some countries, we need FDI, so we ar here, we are FDI and I just want to tell some experience when facing some of the opinions from the community that it is a Chinese product, it is not Myanmar’s. Indeed, when we pitched for the deep sea port, it is Myanmar’s product. It is Myanmar’s deep sea port. It will serve about two third of Myanmar. If you study the map, you will find that the surface can cover nearly whole of the country. So it is really Myanmar’s product. Of course, just that the investment comes from China.  

The worry about it, it is business, and I think if you do know the people, the community and also the media, it can be guided by the government, and it may create a more welcome environment for investment. I do think if we can cooperate, we can guide the people to think and follow the international ways to make it really a win-win business. And also I do think we are not [making the] wrong decision to invest here, to come here. Because Myanmar in the past [for] more than half a century, it is not developed. Now the new government will reform the whole country. We do think it is a huge opportunity for the foreign investor to be here, to make money, to get more benefit, but try to balance all the requirements from the people, the government and the investors themselves.

I do think [we’re] very very happy to get a sign from the speech of HE Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s speech that the government is changing to focus on attracting more foreign investors. We’re happy we are already here. We will grasp at the chance to start our business; at the same time to make money as investors, and at the same time, to improve, to benefit the local people, local government of the country. This is some advice, thank you very much.

Mr Kumar

I’ll let Serge have the last word. Number one, please focus on specific power projects, help conclude the discussions on these PPAs in a fair manner. Number two, let’s pass things on the law because it’s a very important indicator for doing business for Myanmar. It sends a signal to the world, it sends a signal to the local private sector. And number three, why CPC can make a difference to the Ease of Doing Business ranking simply by just publishing basic services, charges, fees and everything on their websites so i am being very specfici. Power projects, insolvency law, transparency around fees and services, land registration and construction permits.

And I really want to thank the counterparts on the government sectors, the DG of DICA is here to push so far, and we now need the support of the Parliament, and the State Counsellor and the leadership of this country to make these key things happen. Thank you. The private sector: please come and talk to us.

Mr Pun

My closing comments: I just want to pour some cold water – we’ve had a great two days, we’re all excited, and it’s time to perhaps get a little bit of a cold shower. So my only advice is that we have to realise that what we intend and we hope for, and what will actually happen on the ground in reality, there is a huge gap. There is a huge gap. If you don’t believe me, tomorrow you say ‘I just heard Daw Aung San Suu Kyi say this and this, and the Invest Myanmar Summit [on the] day before said that and U Thaung Tun said this and this, and tomorrow you go to a Ministry and say “I want to do exactly what they said” and their answer would be [Burmese] right? I don’t think it will happen. I don’t think you can expect that.

Before, it used to be [Burmese], and now it’s [Burmese] and then it will become [Burmese] (we will think about it) and then it will become [Burmese] and one day it will happen.  So I would like to say please don’t lose hope, keep trying, be patient, it will get there. Thank you.

Thiri Thant Mon

I think that is a great conclusion, thank you very much to all the panelists not just for all the comments, but really, in investing and believing in Myanmar. And I would just conclude by warming up and reiterating all the Excellencies in the last two days: it’s time to invest in Myanmar. Thank you.

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