Daw Suu pitches Myanmar to ASEAN, vows to improve business environment
State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in Singapore yesterday sought to drum up investor interest in Myanmar, couching the country’s economy as “Southeast Asia’s final frontier market with innumerable investment opportunities.”
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was delivering her keynote speech at the 2018 ASEAN Business and Investment Summit in the city state, where ministers from 16 Asia-Pacific countries, including Japan, China and India, also began talks to reach an agreement on key parts of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) free-trade pact before the year end.
“We want to develop Myanmar into an agri-based, industrialised nation as we think food security will be one of the great concerns of our day,” she said, adding that with 70 percent of its population engaged in agriculture, Myanmar will be among the countries supplying the world with its food requirements in the future.
Myanmar is raising its efforts to attract investors just after the World Bank released its Ease of Doing Business Index, which ranks 190 countries according to how easy it is to operate a business. At 171, Myanmar was ranked as the worst place in ASEAN in which to do business in 2019.
Yet, the State Counsellor promised that “it’ll now be easier to start a business in Myanmar than it has ever been.” She highlighted the recent reforms the country has taken to create a more attractive investment environment, including the new Myanmar Companies Law, which was enacted August 1.
Under that piece of legislation, companies can now electronically register a new business within a few hours on the MyCo online system. Since August, 14,000 companies have registered on the new platform and 4000 are new. Meanwhile, the Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC) will also no longer require a permit for every investment project.
In addition, President U Win Myint sent notification to the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw yesterday of the intent to form the Ministry of Investment and Foreign Economic Relations (MIFER) in order to boost the country’s economic development. The new ministry will supervise resources and aid money from the UN, donor organisations and the international community, bringing external support and assistance in line with the government’s direction and policies. It will also work closely with the UN and the international community, according to the letter.
The government has not named the individual who will head the ministry. Parliament is expected to approve the proposal on November 15.
Meanwhile, the MIC has been reorganised under new chair U Thaung Tun, who will ensure that business procedures across the MIC and all other government agencies are streamlined under clear and simple procedures.
Income tax exemptions will also be granted for special zones and promoted areas with the aim of narrowing the development gap between Myanmar’s 14 states and regions.
Development at border areas, in particular, has lagged behind that of the heartlands.
Other measures being implemented include making it easier for businesses to pay taxes in Myanmar. U Min Htut, director general of the Internal Revenue Department (IRD), said taxpayers will soon be able to do so by going online once a year.
Prior to the online system, taxpayers were expected to spend hours at the tax office sorting out their tax affairs. In addition, commercial taxes and special commodity taxes had to be paid monthly, while income taxes are paid every quarter.
He added that the Directorate of Investment and Company Administration (DICA) and the IRD are exploring ways for company registration numbers to double up as taxpayer identification numbers to raise efficiency.
U Aung Naing Oo, director general of DICA, recently told The Myanmar Times that data for the World Bank’s recent report was tabulated in May, which is before the implementation of the new Companies Law.
“The benefits brought about under the new law were not included in the 2019 ranking. Since then we’ve made setting up a company much easier,” he said.
On the whole, the main aim of the reforms is to help investors be able to “calculate with confidence” what the outcome and returns will be when investing in the country, the State Counsellor said in her closing remarks.
“We would like investors to view investing in Myanmar as investing in the future of ASEAN,” she said.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League of Democracy (NLD) party is now more than half way through its term in government.
The next general election will be held in 2020. In recent by-elections held earlier this month, in which 13 seats in the lower and upper houses of parliament and regional assemblies were up for grabs, the NLD ceded six seats to opposition parties.
The NLD-led government has also come under international pressure due to its handling of the humanitarian crisis in Rakhine, where some 700,000 refugees fled to Bangladesh and a repatriation process is now ongoing to bring qualified refugees back to Myanmar. Some 2000 refugees are set to be the first batch of returnees who will be resettled starting on November 15.