Myanmar’s Moment?

YANGON – Interest in Myanmar (Burma) has become intense. Last month, Thein Sein became the first president of Myanmar to visit the White House in nearly 50 years, and leaders from British Prime Minister David Cameron to India’s Manmohan Singh to Japan’s Shinzo Abe have all visited Yangon.

Indeed, after years of absence, foreign governments are rushing to reopen their embassies in the country. Moreover, multilateral organizations and former ministers from around the world are flocking to help the authorities make progress on their ambitious agenda, from expanding electricity provision to building their own governing capacity. Investors, too, are actively exploring opportunities.

This focus is not surprising. After years of economic isolation and anemic growth, Myanmar is one of Asia’s last largely untapped markets. Now that the country is opening up, investors are clearly hoping to establish sources of structural advantage that could last for many years.

But can investing in Myanmar live up to today’s soaring expectations? There are undoubtedly major uncertainties and risks. Investors are rightly nervous about how political reform will evolve; whether the government can maintain the fragile peace between ethnic groups; and how regulation and ownership rights will develop. Moreover, it is difficult to quantify the economy’s potential, given the paucity of reliable data; even basic indicators like population size and historical economic growth are shrouded in uncertainty.