In your recent trip to Washington, you remarked at SAIS that you invited American companies to come to Myanmar and take part in this rapid transformation. Trust in the reform process appears to be building in the international public. What would you say to those who still have doubts?
I have two major comments to make to investors who may still have doubts about Myanmar. First of all Myanmar is a country rich in natural resources. Secondly we have a valid labor force in our country. We also have an excellent geographical location, as we share a border with China and with India, as well as Bangladesh. Nine ASEAN members are ….? If you combine these you can say that because of our geographical location we have access to 2.3 billion people, therefore a huge market. The second point is that any foreign investor looking to enter a country looks to the foreign investment law. In the past our old foreign investment law was not in line with international standards. But as you know last year we promulgated a new foreign investment law that is investor friendly and in line with international standards. It protects foreign investment as well as giving incentives to potential investors in our country. Despite the potential for investment in our country, if sanctions are in place it is difficult for foreign companies to take advantage of the new law, but as you know, our government has been able to remove all the economic sanctions imposed against Myanmar. The EU has lifted sanctions and they have….the Generalized System of Preferences for …Myanmar’s goods to the European Market. So I can say that now is the best time for investors to come and invest in Myanmar and the government is doing our best to have transparency. Our government will also stand ready to assist the potential investor who wishes to invest in Myanmar.
Also, in the past as the US had financial restrictions on Myanmar so we were unable to transact using US currency in our trade. But now the administration has eased its restrictions so we can have transactions in US dollars.
The past two years, as Minister U Soe Thane said in our meeting, have been dedicated to the process of reforms, and this is the year for implementation. Are you comfortable with the pace of this stage or would you like for it to be moving faster?
Let me say that we are not fully satisfied with the reforms. We have many things ahead of us to undertake. For the past two years we have not been able to deliver directly to the grassroots level because of the pace of our reforms. As you know in the first phase we had to try our best to remove the sanctions and attract foreign investment and then I had to make several trips to European countries for them to help us to remove economic sanctions. So I would like to highlight that the first year we spent most of our time promoting the foreign investment law and having sanctions removed. Having said that, of course there were a lot of positive changes within those two years. Ahead of us, however we must insure that peace and stability continue in Myanmar. Our country has been suffering for the past 6 (? Or 60) years because of these armed insurgencies, so we are trying our best to achieve peace in Myanmar. Although we now have a ceasefire, that is not sufficient. We want to have a sustainable and everlasting peace in our country so we will have to continue political dialogue in order to completely put an end to armed conflict. The other things is that we have to do more to provide basic services such as electricity, water, transport and other …? For the people of Myanmar. Another point is that we wish to have poverty alleviated and we have laid out a National plan for rural development and poverty alleviation. As you know, our government has time limitations. So I must say that there are so many things ahead of us to do, so we will have to even accelerate our reforms for the time that we still have left.
You will be Chairing ASEAN in 2014, ushering in a new age for Myanmar’s regional protagonism. What are your goals for this important post?
2014 is indeed a crucial year for ASEAN because they are building toward the community that the members have envisioned. Myanmar will make every effort to reach those goals as defined by the members. Second, we will try to promote regional stability and development among the member states. We aim to have equitable development among the ten members. There are second tier members like Myanmar and other countries which want to catch up with the other members and experience equitable development with all ten members.
You have been traveling, changing the government, country…moving at an unprecedented pace in world history. What drives you to get up in the morning and keep going at this pace?
There are two motivations that drive us to make these rapid reforms in our country. The first is that the people of Myanmar have been longing for this reform process to take place; they are demanding change and as an elected government we have the responsibility to try to accomplish as much as we can and not allow the reform process to stagnate. On the contrary, we must accelerate the reforms. Second, we have time limitations; we must deliver as much as we can to the people of Myanmar within a time limit. Two years have already passed and we have another two years in which to deliver what the people of Myanmar want. These are the motivations that have driven my government to undertake reforms at this accelerated pace in order to fulfill the wishes of the people.