Indonesia Urged to Invest in Myanmar
A senior Indonesian politician has called on government and business leaders to begin tapping economic and business opportunities in Myanmar following the lifting of sanctions by the United States on the Southeast Asian country.
Theo L. Sambuaga, a standing committee member of the International Conference of Asian Political Parties, said Myanmar was rich in natural resources.
He added that the country had good British-style bureaucratic discipline and a growing human resource potential that will enable it to make tremendous economic progress now that the sanctions have been lifted.
“Indonesia must not miss this opportunity,” Theo said.
He explained that in the past, Indonesia had devoted much energy to helping settle conflicts in Vietnam, Cambodia, and East Timor, but after the conflicts were over, other countries swooped in and reaped the economic benefits.
He said companies from the United States, Europe, India, Singapore and Malaysia were currently operating in Myanmar and served as examples of how visionary nations were able to benefit from newly-opened economic doors.
“Indonesia must step in quickly. We need to learn from history,” said Theo, who went to Myanmar with ICAPP chairman and former speaker of the Philippines’ House of Representatives Jose de Venecia.
The ICAPP is a forum in which political parties and their leaders from Asia-Oceania countries are able to exchange ideas on improving communication while helping the region to grow closer.
Though the group invites political parties with varying ideologies, the forum has been able to accomplish a lot in its existence. Launched in Manila in September 2000, the group brings together more than 300 political groups, and meets regularly to exchange ideas.
During a visit to Myanmar, Theo’s delegation had a meeting with opposition leader and Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. During the meeting, the ICAPP delegation expressed support for reforms and democratization in Myanmar and welcomed Myanmar’s political parties into the ICAPP.
Following the meeting, Suu Kyi left for the United States.
Now that US sanctions on Myanmar have been eased, Theo said, Indonesia’s enterprises, both state-owned and private, must move quickly to invest in the development of roads, harbors and airports. The mining of minerals and production of oil and gas were also mentioned, along with the services sector.
Theo acknowledged that current bilateral economic relations were not close “but the potential for developing various sectors of Myanmar’s economy is great indeed.”
Myanmar is rich in natural resources like petroleum, timber, tin, antimony, zinc, copper, lead, coal, marble, limestone, precious stones, natural gas and hydropower.
The country is also blessed with huge amounts of teak and other wood.
According to the most recent UN World Development Report, Myanmar has an estimated natural forest area of 43 percent and is ranked 33rd among the world’s top 100 forest-preserving countries.
The governments of Indonesia and Myanmar are hoping to boost bilateral trade above $500 million by 2015 when an Asean Free Trade Agreement is fully implemented.
The two governments are determined to boost cooperation in agri-industry, livestock, food processing, manufacturing, textile and garments, banking, energy, telecommunications and information technology, according to data from the Indonesian Ministry of Trade.
Apart from that, cooperation is being developed between national airline Garuda Indonesia and Myanmar International Airways to bolster the tourism industry in both countries.
Given those business opportunities, Theo believes that “the lifting of US economic sanctions is not just good for Myanmar but for the US economy as well.”
The government of Myanmar, under reformist President Thein Sein, “is apparently very serious about implementing reforms and democracy,” Theo said.
Despite being a retired general from the past regime, “Thein Sein took the risk to implement decisive policies toward reform and democracy and this move is supported by Suu Kyi, the leader of an opposition party,” he added.
“The reform is also being supported by speaker of parliament U Shwe Mann, and U Htay Oo, the secretary general of the governing Union Solidarity and Development Association party.
The United States earlier this year relaxed restrictions on its nationals investing in Myanmar in acknowledgement of its progress on reform, but a complete cessation of sanctions has not yet occurred.
Theo said that Washington should promptly lift the sanctions it is still imposing because Myanmar is in the process of accelerating its economic reform to catch up with the rest of the region.
China, India, and Association of Southeast Asian Nations countries will support Myanmar’s reform, Theo said, adding that US companies also are eager to tap into the myriad business opportunities there.
Earlier this month the Indonesian government announced it was delaying the opening of an office in Myanmar to represent state-owned companies due to concerns over violence against the Rohingya ethnic minority.
- Full disclosure: Theo L Sambuaga sits on the Group Editorial Board of the Jakarta Globe