Name: Bronte Moules
Job Title: Ambassador
Profession: Career Diplomat
MI: What is the mission of Australian Embassy here?
The main mission here is to develop bilateral relations between Australia and Myanmar through promotion of political, economic and trade ties – through government-to-gov- ernment as well as direct people-to-people links. We also deal with immigration issues, visa processing and we co-operate on com- batting transnational crime, especially in re- lation to people trafficking and narcotics trafficking. We also provide consular ser- vices for Australians travelling to Myanmar.
MI: How do you describe the history of relationship between Australia and Myanmar?
We have a long and interesting history. The Australian Government started its official presence in Yangon in 1952, and we have had a continuous presence in Myanmar from then till now. Of course, our bilateral rela- tions have gone through different phases during this long period.
Education linkages between our two coun- tries date back a long way, including through the Colombo Plan. We have also been in- volved in many development projects here over the years.
MI: Tell us one thing that surprised you when you first started your assign- ment in Myanmar.
I started my assignment here in January 2011. When I first arrived, most people I spoke to did not think the country would change much from the status quo. But things really did start to change that year, much to everyone’s surprise. We then saw many
things start to evolve, one after another, across a range of areas – political, economic and social. This in turn changed the work of the embassy here, by opening up new areas of engagement.
MI: What are the focus sectors/indus- tries that would suit an Australian company to invest in Myanmar?
The sectors where we see the most potential for Australian companies in Myanmar are mineral resources, infrastructure (particu- larly power and water), agriculture, and fi- nancial and professional services. We also think there is significant potential for Aus- tralian education institutions to deliver courses in Myanmar when the time is right.
MI: How many Australian companies have invested in Myanmar so far?
The figures are still quite low. But a large number of Australian businesses are coming
here, visiting and exploring opportunities. The Australian Trade Commission – Aus- trade – re-opened an office here in Yangon in middle of last year (it had not had an office here since 2000). We anticipate the number of Australian companies investing in Myan- mar will increase as the country’s economy, especially its resource sector, develops.
MI: Mining – Australia as one of the world’s largest mining countries, and Myanmar has plenty of natural re- sources. How do you see the develop- ment of the mining industry in Myan- mar?
Just like in Australia, we want to see the mining industry develop in a sustainable and transparent way. This in an industry which could be a major contributor to economic growth and improved living standards in Myanmar. Australia has a lot of experience and world class technology in the mining and oil and gas sectors, and in related industries such as specialist equipment, engineering services and environmental management. Ausralian expertise in supporting industries extends also to financial services.
MI: Agriculture – Australia is well known for its dairy product and cow farming. Myanmar has plenty of land but lacks dairy product availability; how do you see Australian companies playing a part in these areas?
Australia is a major agricultural nation, with a long history in dairy and beef production, as well as horticulture, grains and pulses pro- duction, and production of textile fibres such as cotton and wool. Some parts of Myanmar have a similar climate to that of Australia. So there is much we could offer in the way of re- search and development to improve the effi- ciency and productivity of Myanmar’s agri- culture sector through, for example, new seed varieties, farm management, improved crop storage and transport systems.
MI: How about technical knowhow and soft skill training in the relevant areas?
There is good potential for co-operation in this area. Because of our experience in these areas, Australia has developed extensive technical know-how in key industry sectors such a mining, oil and gas exploration and production, agriculture, infrastructure devel- opment and environmental management. We have developed comprehensive training and skills development programs in these ar- eas. Many vocational providers in Australia are showing interest, to assist Myanmar in creating linkages between vocational train- ing, industry and policy development.
MI: Are you satisfied with the current reform process? Which areas have exceeded your expectations and which areas have not?
We recognize that very serious efforts have been put in to the current reform process, and are still underway to continue to reform and open up the country and the economy. Australia has been very encouraging and supportive of the efforts of the Myanmar gov- ernment, and of the country in general, to reform.
With regard to expectations, they need to be realistic. It is vitally important that the re- forms bring benefits to the people of the country, but it’s important that the public and the media be realistic about how quickly this can happen. It is clear a lot more reform is needed, and that this will be a long-term process because the reform agenda is mas- sive. It will be important to keep pushing for and working for more positive change.
MI: Australia focuses a lot on environ- mental related matters. What is the priority of Australian government to assist the growth of this country and at the same time provide the support on environmental related issues?
We have been supportive of political and economic development being done in a way that is socially and environmentally sustain- able and that contributes to rising living standards. We want to see Myanmar gain prosperity without damaging its environ- ment. We have supported Myanmar’s appli- cation to join EITI (Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative) through study tours and technical support.
MI: What are the main policies your Excellency expects to see in the near future to enhance Myanmar’s compet- itiveness in the region?
We would like to see changes to the mining law to promote transparency, predictability and sustainable development. Introduction of foreign banking services, to provide essen- tial financial services that support FDI into Myanmar, would also be needed. We’d also like to see: policies that provide greater cer- tainty around land ownership and tenure; reform of Myanmar’s education and training sectors; and policies that tackle obstacles to efficient business development such as infra- structure bottlenecks, corruption and access to critical information, in order increase the long-term competitiveness of the country.
MI: How do you feel that foreign com- panies now entering into business here will affect the local workforce, and do you feel that they will bring new opportunities to existing local businesses?
The entry of foreign companies into an emerging economy can bring a lot of benefits to the country and its workforce, if it’s done properly. It can mean more job opportuni- ties for skilled and unskilled workers, better access to new technologies, higher wages and training and skills development. In ad- dition, foreign companies can bring a com- mitment to CSR (corporate social responsi- bility) programs to support local communities.
For local businesses, there are a few consid- erations: the government needs to promote
the build-up of local businesses as support- ing industries for FDI, and capacity building among local SMEs. The partnerships created can deliver win-win situations, with more benefits through adopting a collaborative ap- proach.
MI: From a country development standpoint, what do you see are the biggest challenges facing the current government in the next 1-3 years? From an economic perspective, a key chal- lenge is to manage the speed and scale of economic development. It’s very challeng- ing, but important, to put all the pieces in the right place in the right order at the right time, including in relation to infrastructure, education, access to land, access to banking and financial services, and the legal and reg- ulatory framework, to name a few.
Another key challenge is the peace process, the success of which is needed to create a sta- ble and more certain platform for economic and social development.
The government will also need to manage expectations about the benefits that will flow to people from the reform process, and to en- sure that these benefits reach all members of society.
MI: Some investors are adopting a wait and see attitude; investors are looking for long term stability after 2015. What are your Excellency’s thoughts on political stability of Myan- mar after 2015?
We are working to try to support positive change in Myanmar, and we believe contin- ued support for the reform process is very important. We will continue to help build up national institutions and capacity and pro- vide technical advice to develop industry. Much of our assistance is directed at helping people and building up capacity, particularly in the education and health sectors – this is of vital importance irrespective of political developments. In other words, our develop- ment assistance is intended to be useful re- gardless of what happens politically.
MI: How do you see Myanmar com- paring with its Asian neighbors in the short and long term future?
I am optimistic that Myanmar can have a bright future because of the reform effort. Myanmar has many attributes needed for economic prosperity. If development is done well and in a sustainable way, there is no rea- son why Myanmar cannot reach and exceed the same level of economic development as its neighbours and enjoy similar living stan- dards, including access to education and healthcare.
MI: What would be your advice to an Australian company before putting their money into Myanmar?
Our advice to Australian companies that are considering investment in Myanmar is to be patient and persistent. It’s important to spend time here, to research thoroughly, to understand the Myanmar market and its op- portunities and get to know the local busi- ness scene, and to invest for the long term in a sustainable and socially responsible way.