THOUGH Australian businesses are still cautious about doing business in Myanmar, they should not hesitate to enter the country, as both governments are committed to supporting bilateral economic ties, according to an Australian diplomat.
Nick Cumpston, counsellor at the Australian Embassy, said in an exclusive interview that the Australian government would encourage its businesses to seize enormous opportunities in the emerging market, thanks to Myanmar’s potential for faster growth in the near future.
According to Cumpston, Australian firms’ interest in Myanmar has been on the rise, driven by the better political climate and stronger bilateral ties. As of March 31, when the previous fiscal year ended, 18 Australian firms had been approved by the Myanmar Investment Commission to bring in a combined capital of US$145.8 million (Bt5 billion).
“There has been some hesitation because Australian companies consider Myanmar as a difficult place to do business. Rents are relatively high and the power supply is not always very good. But we are seeing more and more investments here,” he said.
Australian trade and investment has been increasing over time around 15 per cent on a yearly basis, he added. Cumpston considers oil and gas, mining, tourism and education as the most promising sectors to attract Australian investment.
To him, a number of Australian firms are doing market research to invest in Myanmar, in addition to stronger presence of big names like ANZ Bank and Woodside.
“We closely work with those companies to help them understand Myanmar and to help them know about the opportunities and challenges. And we encourage them to ensure long-term investment here. It is really important to make sure that the investment is both responsible and sustainable,” he said.
Cumpston believes that Woodside’s promising discoveries in its offshore gas exploration and ANZ Bank’s Yangon branch would attract more Australian businesses to come to Myanmar.
In a bid to promote trade and investment between the countries, Austrade opened an office in Yangon in 2012. The move helped strengthen Australia’s diplomatic presence in Myanmar since opening its Embassy in 1952.
“We provide businesses with a number of services through the Austrade office. We provide them with the information about the market such as who are useful people to talk to, how to get the approval to do business here, what are the most promising areas, and how we think the economy will grow in the future,” he said.
Cumpston said efforts to increase people-to-people contacts by creating networking opportunities and new linkages would be the key to stronger relations.
“Myanmar has been isolated for many years. Now there is enormous opportunity for people from both countries to learn about each other. We are now looking at how we can work closely with the government. We talk with the government all the time about how we can support their plans,” he said.
Through its development assistance programme, Australia has been providing 75 million Australian dollars (around US$60 million) a year with the key focus on education, private sector-led growth, support to the peace process and providing humanitarian assistance. Additional support is provided when there is a need, for example, at the time of natural disaster, he said.
As Australian support to Myanmar increases, Cumpston is “extremely optimistic” about the bilateral ties. He stressed the importance of Australia’s cooperation with development partners including World Bank Group and Asia Development Bank in the areas of education, promoting private sector growth, strengthening Myanmar’s legal framework, and providing funds for low-income families.
He said thousands of Myanmar students are studying in Australia while some Australian students are studying at Yangon University under its new Colombo Plan.