1 Sept 2017
Myanmar: Market Profile
- Myanmar’s GDP is forecast to expand by 7.7% in FY 2017/18 and 8% in FY 2018/19 on the back of improved global commodity prices and stronger demand from trading partners.
- A new investment law to supersede the Foreign Investment Law of 2012 and Myanmar Citizens’ Investment Law of 2013 took effect in April 2017, levelling the playing field between local and foreign investors. Cumulative FDI into Myanmar had reached US$62.6 billion as of July 2017, with the Chinese mainland, Singapore and Hong Kong being the main sources.
- Myanmar is part of the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area (CAFTA). It has entered into double tax agreements (DTAs) with the UK, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, India, Laos, Vietnam and Korea, and concluded an investment protection agreement (IPA) with Hong Kong.
- Myanmar’s exports increased by 6.9% to US$11.9 billion in FY2016/17, with imports rising by 3.7% to US$17.2 billion.
- In the first seven months of 2017, Hong Kong’s exports to Myanmar increased by 55.8% YOY to US$179 million, while imports from Myanmar rose 26.6% YOY to US$49 million.
Current Economic Situation
Myanmar is the seventh largest economy of the 10-member ASEAN bloc. It has a large service sector which accounts for about 46% of GDP, with industry and agriculture respectively accounting for 28% and 26% of GDP. Major sectors include agricultural processing, manufacturing, construction and transportation.
During FY2016/17 (April-March), Myanmar’s GDP growth decelerated to 6.4% from 7.4% due to a slow recovery in the agricultural sector from the 2015 floods and slowing foreign investment. With global commodity prices and export demand anticipated to go higher, Myanmar’s economy is projected to expand by 7.7% in FY2017/18 and 8% in FY2018/19, according to the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
After the NLP’s landslide victory in the parliamentary elections in November 2015, Htin Kyaw, a close ally of Aung Shan Suu Kyi, was sworn in to become Myanmar's first democratically-elected president and the first NLD president in late March 2016. In keeping with the election platforms, the new government has pledged to continue reforms. This includes reduction of the number of ministries to 21, with Aung San Suu Kyi now overseeing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the President’s Office.
In July 2016, the new NLD government released its first economic policy with 12 main points, highlighting the importance of developing a market-oriented system in Myanmar and providing support to development of the agriculture, industry and infrastructure sectors. The policy also emphasised the need to boost foreign direct investment (FDI) and improve the ease of doing business in the country. Prior to that, important reform measures were introduced within the new government’s 100-day tenure. For example, on the infrastructure side, two road sections on the Yangon-Mandalay highway are being upgraded as a pilot project.
As part of Myanmar’s continued liberalisation process, foreign exchange control was abolished in April 2012. Under the new managed float system, the Central Bank of Myanmar (CBM) announces a reference rate for the kyat against the US dollar following daily foreign exchange auctions conducted with authorised domestic dealer banks. It also allows FDI to be set at market exchange rates. In July 2013, Myanmar’s president signed a new law granting CBM greater independence from the Ministry of Finance. In the same month, the Securities Exchange Law was passed, which facilitates the establishment of a stock exchange that was launched in December 2015.
In 2014, the CBM started granting operation licences to nine foreign banks. Each of the licensed foreign banks is permitted to open one branch and restricted to lending to foreign companies in foreign currency. With four new banks gaining approval in 2016, a total of 13 foreign banks have now been given permission to operate inside the country. FDI in the banking sector was barred previously, making it the first time in 50 years that Myanmar let in foreign banks.
In a bid to upgrade the infrastructure, Myanmar’s government liberalised the telecom sector and allowed foreign investors to bid for the national telecom licences. In 2014, two licences were granted to international telecom operators (Norway's Telenor and Qatar's Ooredoo) for a licence period of 15 years. The opening up of the telecom sector is considered an important step for economic reforms and infrastructure upgrading. According to the World Bank, the mobile subscriptions rate of Myanmar jumped from 13% in 2013 to 76% in 2015, reflecting the huge growth potential of the country’s largely under-served telecom market. In the same year, subscription rate of Cambodia and Laos recorded 133% and 53% respectively.
Myanmar’s reforms and opening up have caught the attention of foreign companies seeking to relocate their labour-intensive production facilities. After implementing a temporary monthly minimum wage of US$65 (including overtime and allowances) for workers in industrial zones, the government announced in September 2015 to introduce the first country-wide minimum wage of Kyat 3,600 (US$2.7) for employees working a standard eight-hour day.
After the formation of the new government under President Htin Kyaw, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Myanmar in April 2016, meeting his counterpart Aung Shan Suu Kyi, who said that the new Myanmar government was willing to strengthen friendly cooperation with China, which would be conducive to the national development of Myanmar. In May 2017, five memorandum of understanding (MOUs) for economic and technical cooperation were inked between Myanmar and China during Aung Shan Suu Kyi’s visit to Beijing for the Belt and Road Forum. Noteworthy is that Myanmar is the only country included in two economic corridors under the Belt and Road Initiative, namely the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIMEC) and the China-Indochina Peninsula Economic Corridor (CICPEC).
Since early 2012, Western countries started to ease their sanctions against Myanmar in response to the latter’s political reforms and parliamentary elections. Following Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to the US in September 2016, the US reinstated Myanmar’s eligibility for the benefits under the GSP scheme in November 2016, allowing Myanmar to export duty-free approximately 5,000 products to the US. As early as in 2013, the EU had lifted its economic sanctions (except military arms sales) against Myanmar.
To promote and facilitate both foreign and domestic investment in Myanmar and open more economic sectors to private investment, a new investment law was implemented in April 2017. This new investment law, which consolidates and replaces the Foreign Investment Law of 2012 and the Myanmar Citizens’ Investment Law of 2013, is set to level the playing field between local and foreign investors.
Under the investment law, FDI in the form of 100% foreign ownership or joint venture is allowed. Sectors open to FDI include manufacturing, services, infrastructure construction, retail and wholesale businesses. Moreover, foreign firms are entitled to a tax holiday in the first three to seven years of operation and other forms of income tax or customs duty reliefs are also available.
Investors in 10 priority sectors, including the export promotion industries; import substituting industries; logistics; healthcare; education services; affordable housing projects; industrial estate development; power; livestock and fishery products; and agriculture, are to be given advantageous treatment by a number of official agencies, including the Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC) and any relevant local government bodies. For details of the new investment law, please refer to Myanmar’s Directorate of Investment and Company Administration (DICA). In addition, the new government has adopted an overhaul of the century-old Myanmar Companies Act, which is due to take place by the end of 2017.
Furthermore, foreign investors may invest under the new Myanmar Special Economic Zone (SEZ) Law, which took effect in January 2014. Besides incentives such as income tax holidays, income tax relief, and customs duty and import tax exemptions, investors can lease land from the government or authorised private owners for up to 50 years and renew for further 25 years. The main SEZ watchdog is the Central Body for the Myanmar Special Economic Zone.
According to DICA, the country’s cumulative inward FDI reached US$62.6 billion as at July 2017. Major FDI sources were the Chinese mainland (30.3% of the total), Singapore (27.4%) and Hong Kong (12.2%). Under its national economic development plan, the government targets to attract FDI of US$140 billion by 2030.
About 58% of the FDI stock in Myanmar was tied to the sectors of oil & gas and power, while FDI in the sectors of transport and communication and manufacturing, accounted for 13% and 12% of the total respectively.
Of the SEZs being developed in Myanmar, the Thilawa SEZ set on the outskirts of Yangon has by far more complete basic infrastructure. Some 80 foreign investors have invested in the Thilawa SEZ, half of which are Japanese companies. Second-phase extension is being carried out and is expected to be completed by mid-2018.
Further information is available in the Myanmar Investment Guide.
Myanmar has been a member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) since January 1995. Import tariffs are imposed mostly on an ad valorem basis. The average MFN applied duty rate on agricultural imports is 8.6%, and more than 40% of the agricultural products are subject to tariff rates of less than 15%. Meanwhile, the average MFN applied duty is 5.1% for non-agricultural products. For example, textiles imported into Myanmar are subject to an average MFN applied tariff of 8.3%, with electrical machinery at an average MFN applied tariff of 4.5%.
Myanmar is a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a regional bloc consisting 10 countries. As an ASEAN member since 1997, Myanmar is part of the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area (CAFTA), the world’s largest free trade area by population. Under CAFTA, China’s average import tariff rate on products from Myanmar was gradually lowered from 8.3% in 2005 to 0.6% in 2012. For example, China’s tariff rate on imports of textile and clothing items from Myanmar was lowered from an average of 15% in 2005, to 5% in 2009, and zero-rated in 2012. Similarly, Myanmar will gradually lower the tariff rates on China-origin products. The average tariff rate on Chinese furniture, for example, was cut from an average of 9% in 2010 to 0.02% by 2015.
Myanmar has double taxation agreements (DTAs) with the UK, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, India, Laos, Vietnam and Korea, with the negotiation of an Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (IPPA) with Hong Kong concluded in 2013.
Myanmar’s total exports increased by 6.9% to US$11.9 billion in FY2016/17. Major export destinations included China, Thailand, India, Japan and Singapore. Major exports included fuel, agricultural products, garment and mineral products. During the same period, the country’s total imports rose 3.7% to US$17.2 billion. Major import sources were China, Singapore, Thailand, Japan and India. Myanmar’s imported goods mainly comprised machinery, transport equipment, basic metals and manufactures.
Hong Kong's Economic Ties with Myanmar
Hong Kong’s exports to Myanmar represented only 0.9% of its total exports to the 10-member ASEAN in the first seven months of 2017, and Myanmar ranked 8th among ASEAN countries in absorbing Hong Kong exports (ahead of Brunei and Laos).
In the first seven months of 2017, Hong Kong’s exports to Myanmar increased by 55.8% year-on-year (YOY) to US$179 million. Major Hong Kong exports to Myanmar included plates, sheets, film, foil and strip, of plastics (13.9%), optical goods (12.6%) and knitted or crocheted fabrics (11.7%).
In the same period, Hong Kong’s imports from Myanmar increased by 26.6% YOY to US$49 million. Major imports from the country during the period were optical goods (22.8%), crustaceans, molluscs & aquatic invertebrates, chilled, frozen, dried, salted or in brine (18.1%), and travel goods & handbags (12.6%).
More information on the Belt and Road countries’ economic and investment environment, tax and other subjects that are important in considering investment and doing business are available in The Belt and Road Initiative: Country Business Guides.
 ASEAN consists of 10 members: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.