“Myanmar, bordered with five countries, can bring in opportunities for cooperation with each of these not only on a bilateral basis, but also on a regional basis.” Hon’ble Commerce Minister of Bangladesh Mr G M Quader, MP expressed such view as Chief Guest in the brainstorming session on Recent Developments in Myanmar: New Opportunities for Regional Cooperation organised by CPD in collaboration with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) on 15 March 2012 at the Marble Room of Ruposhi Bangla Hotel, Dhaka. The objective of the brainstorming session was to review new developments in Myanmar and to explore and identify possible ways of cooperation between Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar (BCIM).
While the overview session concentrated on the main theme Recent Developments in Myanmar, the dialogue also focused on opportunities for regional cooperation in three cross-cutting areas of Transport Connectivity, Energy Cooperation and Food Security covered in three dedicated sessions. High officials, academics, researchers from BCIM countries participated and shared their views in this day-long event.
The overview session of the programme was chaired by Professor Rehman Sobhan, Chairman and moderated by Professor Mustafizur Rahman, Executive Director of CPD. Myanmar Ambassador to Bangladesh H E Mr U Min Lwin was the Special Guest of the session. Keynote papers of the session were presented by Professor Dr Aung Tun Thet, Senior Advisor to the UN Resident Coordinator, Myanmar and Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya, Distinguished Fellow, CPD.
Myanmar is undergoing new legislative reforms including tax and land reforms to attract FDI.
–Dr Aung Tun Thet
In his keynote Dr Thet informed the audience that as Myanmar is currently re-engaging with the international community there has been resumption of aid flows. He also mentioned about new legislative reforms including tax and land reforms that were being undertaken in Myanmar to attract FDI. He also identified a number of challenges to be overcome in the Myanmar economy including unpredictable inflation, fiscal deficit, multiple official exchange rates and artificially overvalued currency, and unreliable statistics. To take advantage of the new opportunities, Dr Thet recommended for South-South cooperation through Public-Private Partnership model.
Dr Bhattacharya said that the windows of opportunities that have been opened up for both Myanmar and its neighbours cover a wide spectrum of areas. He, however, mentioned that setting up a self-regulating, independent central bank to address external imbalances and generating reliable statistical data on key macroeconomic parameters are the two major tasks that the Myanmar government needs to undertake soon.
The windows of opportunities that have been opened up for both Myanmar and its neighbours cover a wide spectrum of areas.
–Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya
Dr Bhattacharya suggested that Bangladesh and Myanmar should work together to establish special economic zones, promote contractual farming, connecting the two countries through Tri-Nation Road Link and address the Rohinga refugee issues.
The Hon’ble Minister G M Quader, MP stressed the need for closer ties among BCIM countries. He also mentioned about strengthening bilateral ties by exploring the possibilities of exporting Bangladeshi products to Myanmar that it is currently importing from India and China.
Myanmar, bordered with five countries, can bring in opportunities for cooperation with each of these not only on a bilateral basis, but also on a regional basis.
–Mr G M Quader, MP
H E Mr Lwin informed the audience that after Myanmar’s peaceful transition from a military regime to a parliamentary democratic system, the political situation is now favourable to undertake economic reforms. These political and economic reforms can be intensified with the lifting of EU and UN sanctions in near future, he added.
Recalling the Twenty First century as the ‘Asian Century’, Professor Sobhan stated that as the global trade balance is shifting towards Asia, the countries of this region should not miss the opportunity. In this regard, he asserted that Myanmar could serve as a key agent in promoting economic and political cooperation in the region because of its strategic location.
In the session on Transport Connectivity, the keynote paper was presented by Mr Lei Zhuning, Associate Professor and Assistant Director, Institute of South Asian Studies, Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences, People’s Republic of China.
The progress and prospects of air and water connectivity is one of the key pre-conditions for cargo movements within the region.
–Mr Lei Zhuning
The paper focused on a number of areas including recent progress in the area of road construction in Myanmar, priorities with regard to regional road connectivity through participation in ASEAN Highway connecting Myanmar with India, China and Thailand, construction of economic corridors in the context of Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS), and road link between Myanmar and Bangladesh. The progress and prospects of air and water connectivity was highlighted as one of the key pre-conditions for cargo movements within the region. Security concerns, non-standardised customs clearance, inferior infrastructure at the borders, limited capacity for transshipment, delayed customs procedure and expensive transit fees were identified as major problems hindering smooth connectivity among the countries of the region. To address these problems, the paper called for establishing multilateral cooperation mechanism through greater involvement of major players.
Speakers maintained that the BCIM Economic Corridor could be established in line with the existing Mekong-India Economic Corridor which will connect Yangon-Dhaka-Delhi through road networks. Lessons in this connection could be drawn from the GMS East-West Economic Corridor experience, voiced the discussants.
Myanmar could be a significant oil and gas exporter in this highly energy-deficient but fast growing region.
–Ms Deepti Mahajan
Ms Deepti Mahajan, Associate Fellow and Area Convener, Centre for Research on Energy Security, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), India on Energy Cooperation observed that Myanmar could be a significant oil and gas exporter in this highly energy-deficient but fast growing region. To achieve notable success, Myanmar will need to address a number of challenges including corruption, overvalued exchange rate, political uncertainty, underdeveloped human resources and institutional capacities, she added.
Other speakers echoed the thought that energy cooperation within the region has been delayed already and further delay would become extremely costly. They also felt that development of an energy cooperation framework will involve a significant amount of environmental and social costs which need to be taken into due consideration.
Dr Koichi Fujita, Professor, Division of Economic and Political Dynamics, Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University, Japan while presenting the paper on Food Security noted that expansion of agricultural activities in Myanmar could stimulate agricultural production and give significant boost to regional food production. This would have a positive impact on regional food security through higher trade in agricultural commodities among the BCIM countries, said the keynote speaker.
Participants at the session noted that food security for the BCIM countries was important particularly because of their population size. Therefore these countries need to collaborate to ensure food security by seizing opportunities arising from the regional initiatives.
Overview Presentation 1
Professor Dr Aung Tun Thet
Senior Advisor to the UN Resident Coordinator
Overview Presentation 2
Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya
Distinguished Fellow, CPD
Session I: Transport Connectivity
Mr Lei Zhuning
Associate Professor and Assistant Director
Institute of Southeast Asian Studies
Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences
People’s Republic of China
Dr Prabir De
Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS)
Session II: Energy Cooperation
Ms Deepti Mahajan
Associate Fellow and Area Convenor
Centre for Research on Energy Security
The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI)
Session III: Food Security
Dr Koichi Fujita
Professor, Division of Economic and Political Dynamics
Center for Southeast Asian Studies
Kyoto University, Japan