“In order to facilitate investment, businesses need political stability. And in that sense, Mandalay is the perfect place to offer this condition,” Mandalay Chief Minister Zaw Myint Maung told an audience of European investors and businesses.
The European Chamber of Commerce in Myanmar (EuroCham) in collaboration with the Mandalay Region Chamber of Commerce (MRCCI) organised the forum “Business Climate in Upper Myanmar” on May 21.
Many European businesses see Mandalay’s location and access to Upper Myanmar as a key asset but raise concerns about the opaque bureaucracy and shortage of skilled labour.
“Mandalay is at the crossroads between big Asian players, like China and India, and [the city] could become a main trading and communications centre,” said Fabian Lorenz, attorney-at-law, Luther Law Firm Limited.
The availability of raw materials and labour in Mandalay offers a vast potential for development and investment, he added. This includes agriculture, food processing and manufacturing.
U Thant Sin Lwin, acting chief of the Directorate of Investment and Company Administration, emphasised the city’s strategic geographic location in relation to China and India as well as its abundant agricultural resources.
Mandalay is well-known for its importance in trade and business with neighbouring Yunnan Province, and is hailed as a key city in Beijing’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative.
EU Ambassador Kristian Schmidt pitched quality and responsible investment to the audience.
“Like China, the EU believes in open, free trade, within a rules-based multilateral order. We are not against the Belt and Road Initiative, which offers many interesting opportunities.
“But like the State Counsellor said at the Belt and Road Initiative forum end of April, Myanmar, and Mandalay need high quality projects, with sustainable debt levels, respect for social and environmental concerns, full involvement of the local authorities and people, and open and competitive international bidding and expertise to keep quality high, costs low, and local benefits above all,” the ambassador remarked.
Forum speakers pointed out that the threshold of initial capital money foreign companies in the retail/ wholesale sector is too high to attract smaller European players to Mandalay Region.
Other major hurdles include the lack of transparency in the regulatory environment, land legacies and licencing issues. Land issue is still a major challenge not only in Mandalay but in the whole country where changing land titles takes years along with opaque bureaucratic procedures.
“In the business confidence survey which is sent each year by EuroCham to all its members, Mandalay ranks as the number one priority for European companies to extend their current footprint.
“It is the joint responsibility of all economic participants including EU and Mandalay companies and regulators, to promote Mandalay’s capacity to better facilitate foreign investments, after all we all have the same ambition: To make the Mandalay region the success story it deserves to be,” said EuroCham Vice Chair Frederik Meerhoff.