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Over the last few years Myanmar has embarked on major economic and political reforms to join the international economy. Those reforms are now at a crossroads and policymakers and the community are looking to develop a strategy to help guide the next phase of opening up the economy.
A new unofficial ‘White Paper’ put together by Crawford School’s East Asian Bureau of Economic Research, with the Myanmar Development Resource Institute’s Centre for Economic and Social Development (MDRI-CESD), has presented a roadmap for the next wave of economic reforms for the country, and highlighted the institutional processes that need to be in place to encourage trade and development.
The Trade and Investment Strategy White Paper — presented to the Myanmar Government and launched in Naypyitaw and Yangon on 13-14 February — sets out policy recommendations for accelerating the development of the Myanmar economy by expanding international trade and foreign investment, and through greater integration into the regional and global economy.
The paper highlights Myanmar’s strategic location and its huge potential, suggesting high rates of growth are achievable. A priority is to improve and strengthen policy processes in order to entrench openness to trade and investment, and to help distribute the gains from trade to the whole of society.
Ministers, business leaders, senior government officials, representatives from key development institutions including the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, as well as the Economic Committee of Myanmar’s opposition party, the National League for Democracy, participated in the launch and policy discussions.
Zaw Oo, President of MDRI-CESD and economic advisor to Myanmar’s President Thein Sein, said the report highlighted the next steps for Myanmar as it transitions to joining the international economic community.
“The foundations for a market economy should be put in place. We have to think about short-term and long-term strategies. Long-term foundations and short-term windfalls should be related.”
Crawford School’s Emeritus Professor Peter Drysdale led a team of experts including Dr Shiro Armstrong and an Australian Government Fellow from the Australian Treasury to Myanmar for the launch.
“This paper does not set out to deliver a blueprint that outlines specific policies for Myanmar’s reforms,” said Professor Drysdale, head of EABER.
“Instead, it focuses on getting good institutional processes in place for trade and development. We hope that it will be used as a comprehensive reference document for developing robust policy processes.”
A key recommendation that comes out of the White Paper is establishing a policy review institution, to provide apolitical, rigorous and transparent advice on the economy-wide implications of economic policy. Mike Woods, former Deputy Commissioner of the Productivity Commission, and Paul Gretton, the current Assistant Commissioner, who played active advisory roles in the development of the White Paper, contributed to the discussions in Naypyitaw and Yangon.
Professor Drysdale added that Myanmar’s transition towards a stronger and more productive economy is far from over, but getting the entire reform package right will allow Myanmar to realise its potential, laying a strong foundation for a prosperous, open and politically stable modern state.
“Wide stakeholder buy-in to this agenda will provide confidence, domestically and internationally, in commitment to the long, hard task ahead,” he said.