Myanmar, situated in Southeast Asia, features a diverse tapestry of cultures, ancient temples like those in Bagan, and natural wonders. Despite its enchanting landscapes, Myanmar grapples with complex socio-political challenges that influence its journey towards stability and development. The nation’s top industries reflect a blend of traditional strengths and emerging sectors, showcasing a diverse economic portfolio. From the prized gem trade to the growing tourism sector, Myanmar’s industries contribute significantly to its development.
Major Industries in Myanmar
The garment industry serves as a significant source of employment in the Yangon region, employing approximately 200,000 workers as of mid-2015. To safeguard workers’ rights, the Myanmar Government implemented a minimum daily wage of MMK 4,800 (US$3.18) for garment workers starting in March 2018.
Foreign direct investment has played a pivotal role in the growth of Myanmar’s garment sector, with a notable increase in the number of foreign-owned firms, particularly in the Yangon area. In March 2012, six major garment manufacturers from Thailand announced their decision to relocate production to Burma, attracted by lower labour costs. As of mid-2015, around 55% of officially registered garment firms in Myanmar had foreign ownership, with approximately 25% from China and 17% from Hong Kong. Foreign-linked enterprises dominate garment exports, which have experienced rapid growth, especially following the lifting of EU sanctions in 2012. In 2016, Myanmar’s garment and textile exports reached $1.6 billion.
Oil and Gas
Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) serves as the national oil and gas company in Burma, holding exclusive operations in oil and gas exploration, production, and domestic gas transmission via a 1,900-kilometer onshore pipeline grid. Notable projects include the Yadana Project, focusing on the exploitation of the Yadana gas field in the Andaman Sea and the transportation of natural gas to Thailand through Myanmar. The Sino-Burma pipelines are strategic initiatives planning to connect Burma’s Kyaukphyu port with Kunming in China’s Yunnan province for oil and natural gas transport. Seadrill, a Norwegian company owned by John Fredriksen, plays a role in offshore oil drilling, contributing to potential oil and export revenues for the Burmese government. Myanmar recorded gas exports amounting to $3.5 billion, primarily to Thailand, in the fiscal year leading up to March 2012. The initiation to bid on oil exploration licenses for 18 onshore oil blocks in Myanmar was announced on January 18, 2013.
Myanmar possesses substantial untapped resources in both solar power and hydropower. The technical potential for solar power in the country is notably high, surpassing that of other nations in the Greater Mekong Subregion. However, the potential for wind energy, biogas, and biomass is relatively limited and underdeveloped in Myanmar. Despite the richness of solar and hydropower resources, other renewable energy sources such as wind, biogas, and biomass face challenges in terms of both potential and development within the country.
The economic landscape of the Union of Myanmar relies significantly on the trade of precious stones, including sapphires, pearls, and jade. Rubies, in particular, stand out as the primary revenue generator, with 90% of the world’s rubies originating from Myanmar, celebrated for their exceptional purity and colour. Thailand stands as the major purchaser of these gems. The Mogok area, known as the “Valley of Rubies,” situated 200 km north of Mandalay, is renowned for producing rare pigeon’s blood rubies and blue sapphires.
Myanmar is globally recognized for its Golden South Sea Pearls, and in recent times, the country has conducted auctions in Hong Kong. These actions, initiated by the Belpearl company in 2013, have garnered critical acclaim and premium prices, driven by robust demand from the Chinese market. Notable pearls, such as the New Dawn of Myanmar, a 19mm round golden pearl, have achieved significant sales, including one to an undisclosed buyer at an undisclosed price.
Since 1992, the government of Myanmar has actively promoted tourism, experiencing significant growth in recent years. In 2008, the country welcomed fewer than 750,000 tourists annually, but there has been a substantial increase since then. In 2012, 1.06 million tourists visited Myanmar, and projections estimate 1.8 million visitors by the end of 2013.
Tourism has become an increasingly important sector for Myanmar’s economy, benefitting from a diverse range of attractions and international accessibility through various airlines offering direct flights. The country is also a destination for cruise ships, particularly in Yangon. Multiple border checkpoints allow overland entry and a valid passport with an entry visa is required for all tourists and business visitors.