Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi yesterday called on foreign businesses to invest in what she called "the last frontier of South-east Asia", saying that her government is working hard to make the business environment more attractive for investors.
The country's de facto leader said there are opportunities for investment in sectors including agriculture and related businesses, as well as production of livestock and fishery products, education and healthcare services.
"We have land, we have a good young working population, we have many unexplored resources," she said in a keynote speech at the Asean Business and Investment Summit.
"Exploration is exciting, exploration is lucrative and exploration will help us to develop our country quickly," she told more than 1,000 regional policymakers and business leaders.
The two-day conference is organised annually by the Asean Business Advisory Council on the sidelines of the main Asean Summit, which will be held from today to Thursday at the Suntec Singapore International Convention and Exhibition Centre.
Ms Suu Kyi said reform measures have been undertaken to create a more attractive, investor-friendly environment by making the process of starting a business "much simpler and much quicker".
These included doing away with permits from the Myanmar Investment Commission for investment projects and granting income tax exemptions according to zones and promoted areas.
MANY ECONOMIC ADVANTAGES
We have land, we have a good young working population, we have many unexplored resources. Exploration is exciting, exploration is lucrative and exploration will help us to develop our country quickly.
MYANMAR'S STATE COUNSELLOR AUNG SAN SUU KYI
Noting development gaps between the country's 14 states and regions, she said investments should help to strike a balance between social cohesion and economic gains.
"We cannot always invest where it will be most lucrative for us in the material sense. Sometimes, we have to invest for the sake of bringing people closer together, for the sake of political equality and harmony."
In the face of rising protectionist sentiments and trade tensions between some countries, Ms Suu Kyi said these macroeconomic shifts have made it "difficult for us to cope in some ways, but unavoidable if we want to enter the mainstream of the world economy".
She recalled that when Singapore became newly independent, the late prime minister Lee Kuan Yew had said the Republic would have caught up with Myanmar in 20 years. "Singapore is way ahead of us now... We should not wait 20 years to catch up with Singapore, I hope you will help us to catch up with Singapore," she said.
"We know that Myanmar will have to run to catch up with the rest of the world, to catch up with Singapore and all those other Asian nations which have gone before us on the development road," she added.
Asean plays an important role for economic cooperation for Myanmar, she said, adding that as of September this year, investments from the grouping accounted for 45 per cent of the country's total investments. She hoped for ties between Asean countries to become stronger.
Building a reformist government that would attract foreign investment is a goal for Ms Suu Kyi, a longtime detainee who led her National League for Democracy party to power in a landslide victory in the 2015 General Election, ending decades of military rule.
Once regarded a democracy icon, she is facing global pressure over the slow pace of legal, political and economic reforms and perceived inaction over the violence involving the Muslim Rohingya minority.
More than 700,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar's Rakhine State fled to Bangladesh to seek refuge following a military crackdown last year. But the two countries have pledged to begin the process of repatriation.