When we started our business in 2012 in Myanmar, it was ranked 3rd from last in ease of doing business. Ranked just above Somalia and Afghanistan. Myanmar has come along way in the last almost 7 years but it’s got a long way to go. Currently Myanmar stands at 171 out of 190 countries that were assessed by the World Bank in it’s annual ratings.
So what are the challenges in doing business in Myanmar? Here are a few obvious ones that you would run into while doing business here the last 7 years.
- Lack of Information
It’s very difficult to find information in Myanmar. Information is gold and usually costs money or you need a good local contact that knows there was around. In Myanmar information means business and therefore it is treated as proprietary. Information that might be public knowledge in other countries may be held private and asking may be viewed as intrusive.
This makes sense when you look at the economy. There isn’t much technology in Myanmar and most sectors are still in their nascent form. It’s easy to copy companies that are not complicated, and there aren’t many complicated businesses in Myanmar.
- Several Ways of Doing the Same Process
If you can think of a way of registering something or doing some businesses, you can probably do that in Myanmar. The laws are still trying to catch up to the rest of the world and many laws are outdated, over 100 years old. If you ask 3 people how to do something or how much something costs, the chance is you will get 3 – 5 different answers. Thus, it’s important to have a reliable local connection whom you can trust to guide you proper process. And also it will save you a lot of money.
- Lack of Infrastructure
It’s not a secret that Myanmar is behind technologically but it’s also behind in electricity generation and basic infrastructure such as roads, airports, ports and public transportation. There is even a lack in banking resources. The government is taking steps to quickly catch up and is looking for both local and foreign investment. Just a couple of months ago the Central Bank gave permission to foreign banks to give loans to local businesses. If you have a manufacturing business, you’ll need to think about this and how much you are willing to invest in developing your own infrastructure.
- Low Skilled Staff
Myanmar has a very young population and an eager workforce. Under 60 years of military rule, the education system was systematically destroyed. The whole education system doesn’t prepare anyone for work in any sector. There have sprung up several high-quality private schools where wealthier families send their children. The overall population is uneducated. If you find skilled workers, they are very expensive and will not be as qualified as their regional counterparts. The government recently opened up foreign investment in education and is looking to revamp the public-school system. We are a generation or two away from an educated population.
- Take Your Time and Think Long Term but Act Quickly on Opportunities
If you are entering Myanmar to make a quick dollar you’ve come to the wrong place. Don’t get me wrong. There are many opportunities. But as I’ve stated above there are many challenges. Your strategy should be to enter now and take your time. Expect not to see a return quickly. Develop relationships with people in your sector and let them know you are here. As time goes you will have opportunities. When that happens you’ll be ready.
I always tell people that when doing business with Myanmar people there is a vetting process that comes with doing business with them. The basics of this are simple. Myanmar people are quite friendly and gracious. They will meet with you one, two, three times. It will seem like you are making progress. They do not move quickly. If they do, you don’t want to partner. It will take 3-5 in person meetings with a lot of follow-up for any business deal to be made.
Myanmar is a beautiful country with beautiful people. They are quite practical, and want both partnerships and investment. Though there are many challenges, there are also more opportunities. As we all know without challenge, there are very few opportunities. Let our company be your guide through this process. We’d love to hear from you and see if your business fits what’s needed in the economic landscape here.