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Boosting the Nation’s Economy through Trade

Officials from the Department of Consumer Affairs inspecting unsafe food in a market.
Officials from the Department of Consumer Affairs inspecting unsafe food in a market.

Ministry of Commerce is dedicated for the Republic of the Union of Myanmar’s trade promotion, facilitation, negotiation, liberalization, consumer education and protection. “The ministry’s scope does not only cover international trade but all aspects of business from farm to factory, factory to distributor and distributor to the consumer’s table. We are working towards improving the whole supply chain,” said the Union Minister Dr. Than Myint.

On Strengthening the Economy
The main objective of the Ministry of Commerce is to boost international trade. From April 2018 to February 2019, Myanmar traded a total of US$ 32 billion. The trade deficit totals to US$ 1.89 billion for the previous year, a decrease from the US$ 1.94 billion the year before.
The Minister continues: “It is a combined effort of the farmers, workers, manufacturers and merchants to bring the prosperity. Only if everybody benefits in the supply chain, there will be consumer satisfaction.”

On Increasing Exports
Myanmar’s export value exceeded US$ 14 billion, a 2 billion increase from the previous financial year. Myanmar also received the Generalized System of Preferences which helped bolster the garment industry with a record of US$ 2.5 billion export. There has also been private-public dialogue on the emerging e-marketplace in Myanmar with various meetings and negotiations held to strengthen e-commerce in the country.
Protection for Consumers
Our biggest achievement has been the online complaint system that was launched on March 2018.
Through ,consumers can submit food safety related complaints and also read up on the current laws, rules and regulations in the industry.
The Ministry is also trying to enforce consumer safety standards. In 2018, the ministry confiscated 389 types of goods and 1333 food products that were unfit for
Raising the Standards of Exports
To increase exports in the form of agricultural products, Myanmar face a lot of competition from regional countries. Myanmar is trying to compete in terms of lowering logistics costs while increasing efficient farming methods that will allow more yield per acre.
“We still face challenges regarding getting the highest-grade seeds, quality equipment including machinery and fertilizers and experts on agriculture in order to expand our market in the international economy,” claims the Union Minister.

A business matching.

Challenges of International Trade
There are a lot of variables in play such as the exchange rate, climate change, trade laws and the price of the products in the global economy that significantly impacts the amount of exports. The current administration is working on implementing a functioning Market Economy to improve Myanmar’s stagnating economy.
The Ministry is therefore, focusing on the National Export Strategy for diversification and intensification of exports. The current National Export Strategy (2020-2025) was designed with inputs from state and regional governments and focuses on 11 different sectors. The Ministry is planning to pick the top priority industries this coming financial year.

Increasing Export by Threefold
The country is trying to build up Special Economic Zones (SEZ) along with Border Economic Cooperation Zones to increase bilateral and border trade between Myanmar and other countries.
The Minister notes “We are building Myanmar International Trade Centre in Yangon to showcase the traditional arts and crafts along with trade shows. There is also a Medium Term Programme in collaboration with World Trade Organization that is being implemented to increase trade by Myanmar.

Redrawing Laws and Procedures
The Ministry is focusing on drafting laws for better consumer safety regarding food safety as well as protecting our local products. We are trying prevent hugely discounted imports to come into the country that can damage the local economy through quotas. The Ministry is drafting a Safeguard Law on Increased Imports in addition to an all-encompassing Trade Law for Myanmar in collaboration with World Bank Group and GIZ. The Myanmar Competition Law was passed on 24 Feb 2015 and came into force on 24 Feb 2017.

On Economic Indicators
World Bank Ease of Doing Business Index ranked Myanmar 171 out of the world in the ease of doing business. U Aung Htoo, Deputy Minister commented that Myanmar aims to go down under 100 by 2021. “Hopefully we can attract more investors once we start climbing the ranks,” the Deputy Minister further comments.

Authorities of the Ministry of Commerce inspect a store as part of efforts for providing safe and quality food and goods to consumers.

Special Economic Zones
The Ministry is implementing an export led growth policy through special economic zones. Currently, the Thilawa SEZ is very successful among the three currently in operation. The Kyaukphyu SEZ also have potential to forge a shortcut by bypassing South China Sea and Malacca Straits. An MOU has been signed with CITIC, who won the tender, and the project is now in the process of environmental impact assessments along with negotiations for shareholders and concessions agreement between the parties. The Dawei SEZ is also under negotiations between Myanmar and Thailand with plans to include Japan as well.

Creating Job Opportunities
In the previous years, there were only US$ 500 million worth of garment exports. The current administration has expanded exports to US$ 2 billion worth of products, creating 500,000 more jobs. There are also plans to create more jobs through increase in trade in other industries such as farming, livestock, manufacturing, fruits and fishery. “The quote often goes ‘The customer is always right’ in economics. Hence, we are working towards providing for the best quality products for the consumers through the ministries’ departments. We are also trying to provide consumer protection not only in the food industry but also in the mobile industry (overcharging phone bills), TV (charging extra for packages and then underdelivering, selling mixed oils when the label claims to be pure sunflower oil and other service scams.”

Increasing Border Trade
An MoU for Myanmar – China Economic Cooperation Zones was signed between Myanmar and China in 2017. Negotiations are ongoing for the Framework Agreement to be signed between the parties with Shan State, Muse Township selected as a pilot program. “There are two parts to the agreement. The first is to establish a Core Zone where merchants from both country can trade freely with banks, hotels and tour operators in the area. In the respective border zones, there will be factories, transportation hubs and other packaging facilities in operation. The finished products will be sold through the Core Zone into the other country. This eliminates a lot of potential problems between the countries as well as increase trade between the countries. We plan to call for Expression of Interest, EOI soon,” comments the Deputy Minister.
In conclusion, the Ministry’s main focus is to bolster international trade and enforce more consumer protection with fair pricing and food safety policies. In addition, the Ministry will also work towards drafting rules and regulations and implementing policies that benefits the entire supply chain as well as the consumers.
By May Oo Moe, Photo: Aye Than, (Translated by Myat Thu)

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