State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi held a videoconference on the impact of COVID-19 on the trade sector yesterday from the Presidential Palace in Nay Pyi Taw.
The following persons participated in the videoconference: Deputy Minister for Commerce U Aung Htoo, City Mart Managing Director Daw Win Win Tint who manages a major supply chain in domestic trade and SME entrepreneur Daw Thet Su Htay who is producing natural tamarind/plum juice, fried beans and fermented bean paste.
The State Counsellor, in her capacity as Chairperson of the National-Level Committee for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Prevention, Control and Treatment, said that the Ministry of Commerce plays crucial role in economic matters, especially this ministry manages export of products to foreign countries, Myanmar people earn their livelihood by exporting agricultural products abroad; and that this issue has been given serious consideration not only during COVID-19 crisis but also during normal times, with regular instructions being given to the Ministry of Commerce; Myanmar cannot rely only on one or two markets for her exports; more markets are required for the higher quantity of products in a wide range of varieties; only then would our country have protection and have more choices; we would be able to export our agricultural products on a larger scale and also in more varieties; if only one or two places wanted to buy one or two products, then our country would have to produce fewer varieties of crops; three or four years ago the Ministry of Commerce tried to expand markets, and we are now reaping the good results of these efforts; when China closed border trade due to the COVID-19, export volume to China has declined; however, rice and corn exports to Thailand increased and because it was possible to divert trade to Thailand this has given the country some form of relief. She added that she wanted the Deputy Minister from the Ministry of Commerce to continue by discussing these matters.
Deputy Minister U Aung Htoo discussed the impacts of trade, relations with an economic stimulus plan and matters related to post-COVID economic relief plan.
He talked about one-fifth of trade in GDP value, the impact of COVID on both local and foreign trades; negative effects of curfew on production, commerce, tourism, hotels and restaurant services across the country.
However, the Ministry of Commerce could stockpile about 9,000 tonnes of rice purchased at the bottom price, and the ministry contributed 4,000 bags of rice in the government’s donation to Wuhan locals in China; could sell 120,000 rice bags to Yangon Region government for supplying to grassroots people.
The State Counsellor said that one item of concern to the people was produce like tomatoes which did not last long, furthermore, it perishes when damaged slightly and thus would not fetch a good price; they were worried about such matters; especially in cases where the product could not be exported, it was important for the product to be consumed inside the country; internal transportation was very important; that was why the Ministry of Commerce had been instructed to give special attention to this matter and the ministry had taken necessary measures; after the COVID-19 pandemic started, there was a problem with tomatoes; that time was when the tomatoes were produced in abundance and export was very difficult; that was why the Ministry of Commerce took the lead in seeking out domestic markets; it is understood that the matter turned out quite well; the market for tomatoes did not crash. She said she wanted to know how the Ministry of Commerce managed to control the situation.
The deputy minister explained their coordination with Shan State government in transporting tomatoes into local markets and border trades with China for Myanmar crops.
Daw Win Win Tint, the Managing Director of City Mart, discussed the impacts of COVID-19 in both retail and wholesale markets; the country has over 300,000 to 400,000 retail shops and most of them are in traditional management; the retail sector contributes 90 per cent of market and supermarkets, convenience stores and shopping centres have received more market shares with the changing trends of living styles.
She also remarked popularity of online marketing amid CVID-19 crisis; the needs for production of value added items in the country; food sufficiency amid the pandemic; the relaxation of rules and regulations in FDA for SMEs, digital marketing and e-commerce which are being used I leapfrogging of technology.
Daw Thet Su Htay of the SME owner explained production with plump and tamarind juice without chemicals; expansions of business to produce value added items; the available assistance government, the Ministry of Commerce and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; receiving training programmes and showcasing expos in Thailand, China, the United States, Viet Nam, Japan and Korea with the assistance of the government.
She added the benefit of COVID-19 loan to the businesses during the crisis, lay-offs at the factories due to the pandemic and preparations for post COVID-19 period; difficulties in repayment of loan and FDA application.
Regarding the discussions, the State Counsellor remarked that some products have to rely on domestic markets when export markets were not under favourable; domestic communications and transports sectors are important; Myanmar experienced panic buying amid fears of COVID-19, such as purchase of unnecessary items; public anxiety then gradually declined as they realized that they did not need to worry about such commodities; she did not want the people to have such an attitude to accumulate commodities with fear; no matter what it was the government’s responsibility to take care of the problem; it would be necessary to develop a system for the distribution of an essential item which is in limited supply in a fair and equitable manner; a problem such as this could be overcome only with collective strength; to talk about this subject, during the Second World War, the allied countries had to struggle a great deal; there was strict rationing for items such as sugar, butter, meat, flour, and bread; it was not done in a random manner without serious thought; it was done only after consultation with health experts; the dietary requirements were calculated and in a country where bread was the staple diet, items such as the amount of bread, fruits, fish and meat, items which could be substituted etc.; when this was done in various ways in a systematic and careful manner, the majority of their people became healthier; purchase of items considered to be luxuries decreased and the people only purchased essential items; because the income of the people declined due to COVID-19, people began to buy only essential items with the limited amount of money available; the trading pattern was such that in the early stage demand increased due to panic buying; the reason for the decline in sales during May and June is because of decline in income and because trading became more difficult; the Union Government was trying its best to revive trading; although the Union Government wished to see the economy return to normalcy, it had to be extremely careful all the time so that a second COVID wave would not hit the country due to undue haste; lessons should be learnt from other countries where the number of cases increased after they hurried in relaxing strict restrictions; therefore, regular steps are being taken in this matter; it must be said that the habit of buying non-essential items has declined while people are placing more priority on essential items; the fact that people are thinking more about what is an important issue and what is minor is not a bad thing; some persons working in declining markets might have some difficulties; such problem must be addressed step-by-step; domestic commodity flow, domestic trading and production of value added items must be considered for both local and foreign markets; Myanmar need not worry about food if systematic management is carried out in this sector; Myanmar is an agricultural country and can produce healthy food items; the country has many opportunities and advantages; they must be used to uplift the country; while making efforts to develop the country it was necessary to always keep one eye on a crisis such as COVID; on the other hand they had to be considering about the post COVID period; the reason they had to be considering about the post COVID situation is because in a situation such as this, they need to consider what would be profitable for the country in the long term; in normal times, the goal should be continuous development; the country should proceed towards the goal of development by making energetic and strenuous efforts; in times like this the challenges are huge and there is much to consider; according to the saying “necessity is the mother of invention”, our innovative brains become more active; we need to be creative and innovative and figure out how to make our existing resources to be more valuable for ourselves as well as for the whole world; our country does not exist in isolation; that was why if there is a need for a particular commodity in a certain country, as a rule we should sell this commodity if we are able to sell it; we should sell it as much as possible; we should assist others who are in need; this may be considered as humanitarian assistance apart from that it is also good for our relations among the human community; she believes that in the long term good results would come out of good intentions according to the law of karma. Although the act was done without expectation of getting back something, it is her belief that good intentions always proceed towards good results in the end. That was why she considered the interests of other countries while considering about the interests of Myanmar. We need to consider what commodities were popular in the markets and work towards developing that commodity; at this time it was important to get a foothold of a particular market while the opportunity presents itself.
The new buyers would become regular customers of Myanmar products to improve the economy of the country; recent surveys on the impacts of COVID have showed that the domestic SMEs have taken crucial role for local customers; food supplies are no more stockpiled; no crime cases have increased in the country; on the contrary, while other countries have encountered more criminal cases, according to the recent research.
It is believed that the government’s support to the grass roots people would be helpful to them because the strength of a country or an organization is equivalent to the collective strength of least powerful people and communities, and not comparable with the total powers at the top; the government is trying to lessen worries of grass roots people; despite vigorous attempts, the results remain low as Myanmar is not a rich nation that has limits of resources; especially, traditional products are largely popular among the people, and these sectors need more support; for example, the FDA issue; the norms of FDA could be adjusted if the SMEs have problems with it; problems might be concerned with complexity and delay in FDA processes, as well as the norms; the former can be facilitated, while the latter is not possible to relax the norms; relaxing the norms for trade in COVID-19 will not be good for both present and future terms because the existing situations must be maintained in the role of the country, social status and quality of products; some matters related to FDA is concerned with long-term economic development; if the standards of local FDA failed to meet international norms, the country’s export sector will decline and it will not be useful for the country; the norms of FDA aimed for the welfares of people, health and safety; however, complicated procedures must be relaxed if the processes do not meet the situations of Myanmar although it is not possible to reduce the level of norms; loan programmes for traditional businesses should be easy; the impacts of loan programmes are also monitored, and the loans should be settled to give out them to others who need capitals in their businesses for supporting development of the country; some daily-waged workers have some difficulties and loan plans will be considered for them through fair policies; their income is a driving force the survival of country’s economy; the Ministry of Commerce is taking care steps in this issue; the government will support online business; rules and principles should also meet the needs in post COVID-19 period; although all the sectors cannot be supported simultaneously, the government’s preparations are quite similar to these; new policies should turn out good results; the extent of good results cannot be estimated, but could be judged on the final outputs; public cooperation are always called for success; for example loans should be used appropriately not only for individuals but also for the benefit of whole country; both retailed and wholesale business are not neglected; good managements are required for this sector.
Relations between producers and distributors are seemed to be strong; discussions on the issues of SMEs, loans, technologies and loans are almost similar; some procedures of FDA might be complicated; land plots and property ownership would be considered; quality of products must be developed into international norms in terms of technology and health; because natural healthy products are expensive despite using high technology as in foreign countries; organic products are expensive in developed countries; these products become popular among people of rich countries although prices are high; however prices are as important as healthy qualities in Myanmar; healthy products will have low demand in the local market; the government has noted to support in using high-tech for production of goods at reasonable prices while it is needed to understand good quality items will have higher prices; development of the country is necessary for high demand of these products; the government will reconsider loan programmes; the Ministry of Planning, Finance and Industry will strictly scrutinize on its tasks to be able to keep reserve items for emergency cases; expenditures must be systematic; some persons did not take loans as they worry about repayment; it is a responsible attitude of them with great impression, while the loans would not be settled under unfavourable situations; it is a negligence on responsibility in the business; the one-year loan term would be reconsidered; the loans should also be given to persons with certain property for guarantee and to those who need the loan; the government will also consider how the borrow could repay the loan.
It has been realized that cooperation is required for development; the government and businesspersons are not oppositions, just partners; the government has desire for the development of the country and has many ways to support the business firms; economic development is important for national development, therefore, it is needed to have mutual support between these two sector.
Deputy Minister U Aung Htoo explained his experiences in SME development; the needs of alternative ways to support SME sector. He also advised to promote online advertisement and e-commerce; contradictions of rules and regulations between SMEs and FDA to certify the products.
In her concluding remark, the State Counsellor said the yesterday’s discussion focused on production, distribution, the role of Ministry of Commerce and the national affairs; however, all the stakeholders in respective sectors are for the well-being of people and consumers; collaborative efforts of these people could not only over the COVID crisis and also experience better development in the post of this crisis.—MNA (Translated by Aung Khin)