Why Business in Myanmar Is About to Change

Myanmar, also known as Burma, is a country in transition. Business in Myanmar is on the brink of sweeping changes that should usher in long overdue economic prosperity for the citizens of Myanmar.

For decades, Myanmar was tightly controlled by a military regime. During this time, western governments including the United States, the United Kingdom, and other European nations sanctioned Myanmar. With the exception of humanitarian aid for the starving population, western businesses were not allowed to do business in Myanmar.

However, after the 2010 elections in Myanmar, the new Myanmar president and other political leaders ushered in rapid radical reforms and the western world began to take notice. Political prisoners have been freed, the press is now allowed access, and earnest efforts in peace talks have been praised by many. It seems the new Myanmar government is really trying to help its own people and also cultivate business and political relationships with other countries.

In July 2012, President Obama declared that U.S. companies are now free to invest in Myanmar for the first time in 15 years. The UK followed suite soon after. The Myanmar parliament is in the process of passing new legislation that will supplant Myanmar’s existing 1988 investment law. The new law will reform greatly how Myanmar does business with international investors.

The first version of this bill was criticized as being too strict and it was thought by the Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Myanmar’s top business lobby group, that changes needed to be made. The Myanmar parliament has gone back to the drawing board and it is predicted the changes they are making will attract foreign investors in a big way.

One of the main changes is the original financial cap that was to be placed on foreign investment. Originally it was capped so high that small to medium sized foreign businesses would have been shut out. However, the cap has now been lowered to a level that they can participate.

The tax incentives to foreign businesses have also been increased and extended which will now make doing business in Myanmar much more attractive. In most cases, the tax incentives have been extended from three to five years.

Another primary source of contention in the original version of the new foreign investment law was the inclusion of 13 areas where foreign investment would be restricted. This was designed to protect the primary domestic businesses including agriculture, fishing, and textile manufacturing. However, these restrictions have now been made more lax and now allow for foreign businesses to enter into 50/50 partnerships with domestic Myanmar businesses in these restricted business categories.

The Myanmar Investment Commission will be in charge of regulating the new international business inside the country. They have been putting on a far friendlier face than they have had in the past to woo in the international investors. At the same time, the Myanmar parliament has given them more power in how they handle things. This includes the ability to revoke the tax incentives.

The new changes should have business in Myanmar booming over the next few decades.