Having been secluded from most of the rest of the world for much of its modern history, Myanmar remains a mystical and undiscovered destination to both tourists and businesses. With its recent democratic reforms and removal of international sanctions, there has been a flood of visits to the country by political leaders who once shunned it and businesses that once spurned it. Much of this flurry of activity is centered on the fact that Myanmar has vast untapped natural resources and huge investment potential in almost all industry sectors. And then there is the country, an ethereal beautiful land with pristine, exotic locales that have so far been untrammeled by tourist hoards.
To gather a better understanding of the land, its economic growth potential in the wake of recent reforms and the country’s bilateral relations with Kuwait, ‘The Times’ recently held an exclusive interview with His Excellency Ko Ko Latt Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar to Kuwait. “Diplomatic relations between the Republic of the Union of Myanmar and the State of Kuwait were established in December 1998 and our embassy opened here in May 2009. I was appointed as my country’s first ambassador to Kuwait in December 2010 and arrived to assume my appointment in January 2011. This is my first posting abroad as an ambassador, prior to joining the Ministry of Foreign Affairs I was serving in my country’s armed forces in the rank of Brigadier- General,” revealed the ambassador.
“Also, early this year, Kuwait appointed its ambassador to Myanmar, and in February 2012 His Excellency Essa Yousef Al-Shammali assumed duties as Kuwait’s first ambassador to our country. The mutual establishment of embassies and exchange of ambassadors are considered significant milestones in diplomatic relations between our two countries. While we now have diplomatic relations with 107 countries around the world, it is noteworthy that in the GCC countries we currently have diplomatic relations with all GCC countries, except the United Arab Emirates, and out of these GCC countries we have diplomatic representation only in Kuwait and in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia,” added the ambassador.
Our discussion with the ambassador was also attended by Counsellor Aung Soe Win, who elaborated that following the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries several high-ranking visits by dignitaries of both countries have taken place. “The former Prime Minister of Kuwait H.H. Sheikh Nasser Al-Mohammad Al-Sabah visited Myanmar in August, 2008. This was followed in October 2011, by a visit to Kuwait by H.E. U Maung Myint the Deputy Foreign Minister of Myanmar. As a founding member of Asian Cooperation Dialogue (ACD) we were actively involved in the October, 2012 ACD Summit held in Kuwait through the participation of a delegation headed by H.E. U Thant Kyaw, Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and special representative of His Excellency U Thein Sein, President of Myanmar.”
Since establishing diplomatic relations, several MOUs have also been signed between the two countries for cooperation in various domains, including in economic and technical cooperation, mutual investment protections and between the Chamber of Commerce of both nations. In 2008, the government of Kuwait graciously donated $2 million to relief efforts in Myanmar following the devastation caused by Cyclone Nargis. The Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development has also been active in providing technical and financial assistance to Myanmar, including in a couple of hydro-electric projects in the country. Currently bilateral trade, which stands at nearly USD 7 million, is limited to export of pulses and beans, of which Myanmar is the largest exporter in the world, and frozen marine products to Kuwait, and import of oil products and household goods from Kuwait. The Ambassador revealed, “We are now working on inviting a trade delegation from Myanmar to Kuwait and for a reciprocal visit by Kuwaiti investors and businessmen to our country.”
Speaking about recent economic reforms and the end of sanctions on his country, the ambassador, whose years in military service was evident in his poise, said, “Myanmar was always open for trade and investments; it is just that sanctions imposed on us by several Western nations reduced investments from those countries. But now all that is in the past and Myanmar is fast becoming a magnet for international investments.”
Elaborating on the recently passed Foreign Investment Law (FIL), the ambassador continued, “With the main objectives of promoting and expanding exports, attracting foreign capital, introducing new production technologies and creating more local employment opportunities, the government, in November 2012, introduced the new Foreign Investment Law. Several sectors, including agriculture, forestry, mining, infrastructure and industry, have been identified for foreign investment through the new FIL. With the aim of simplifying investment procedures and getting better opportunities in doing business the government has also issued special notifications on the foreign currency transfer to and from the state.”The Counselor added, “There are different business structures, including 100 percent foreign equity or joint ventures, under which a company or individual can invest in Myanmar. Various exemptions and tax reliefs for investors and their investments are applicable under the new FIL. These include among others, exception from corporate income taxes for five consecutive years and relief from customs duty and other internal taxes for select imported items. An investor can also lease land for an initial period of 50 years, followed by two consecutive extensions of 10 years, depending on the type of business activity and investment amount. Most importantly, the new FIL explicitly guarantees foreign investments against nationalization or expropriation by the government.”
Tourism is another area where Myanmar has a lot of potential. With a land area of around 677,000sq km and stretching for over 2000km from north to south, the country encompasses a variety of topographic features. From snow capped mountains in the north to vast tracts of virgin jungle and scenes of exotic beauty in the east, to pristine beaches that line its nearly 2000km of uninterrupted coastline facing the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea, the country is a panorama of one breathtaking locale after another. “Visa formalities can be completed in one working day for all nationals and there are direct flights to Myanmar from Qatar, Singapore and Thailand,” explained the Counselor.
Clarifying about the recent ethnic turmoil in Myanmar, the ambassador said, “We are a multi-religious, multi-ethnic community of over 60 million people that respects the religious beliefs of others and have lived together in communal harmony for centuries. Myanmar was always a haven for religious tolerance; though 89 percent of the population is Buddhist and there are thousands of religious pagodas in the country, there are over 5,200 Christian churches, 3215 mosques, 1010 Hindu temples and 51,622 Buddhist monasteries spread across the country.
The recent unrest and violence in certain areas was the outcome of criminal activities on the part of some misguided people and had little to do with religious conflict. Luckily, everything has now been brought under control and peace prevails in all the regions. Those responsible for the atrocities will be identified and punished in accordance with the law.”Speaking about the Myanmar community in Kuwait, the ambassador aid, “We are a small community in Kuwait, around 400 people, most of who are engaged in the services sector especially in the retail industry and as nurses in hospitals. A quarter of our community members are employed at the large Samsung project in Wafra.” Concluding on his impressions about Kuwait, Ambassador Ko Ko Latt added, “After nearly two years in the country, I can say that I am very impressed by Kuwait and hospitality of its people, as well as pleased at the high level of support and cooperation extended to me and my people by the government of Kuwait.
– Staff Report