Name : Filip Lauwerysen
Position : Executive Director of European Chamber of Commerce Myanmar
W h e n w a s y o u r f i r s t v i s i t to Myanmar and how has she changed since then?
My first visit to Myanmar was in 2015. I want to say Myanmar has changed a lot in many ways. In 2015, when I arrived here, there were not too many ATM machines. When I arrived airport, it is still very old. Now, they become very modern airports. There are international credit cards everywhere. Consumer goods are available for foreign investors and also for domestic consumers. A lot has changed in a very short time.
Please explain to our readers about European Chamber of Commerce in Myanmar.
Eurocham Myanmar is here to promote European investments in Myanmar. We are here to help European investors to find them the right business partners, to find the right lending for their investments. We provide the market information and business match- making services. We link them with the right business partnership. We help them to find the right place to start their businesses in Myanmar. That is one aspect what we do. Another aspect is we help existing companies, European companies in Myanmar with advocating factors. We help companies that are looking at Myanmar to change the business climate, the regulatory and government. We provide recommendations to the government based on good practice from other Asian countries how certain changes can attract more investments and create more jobs. This is our very specific targeted sector.
What are the differences between European Chamber of Commerce operations in Myanmar and other countries?
Actually, we are part of the network of European business organization which is a world-wide organization of European chamber that are all active in more than 25 countries. In each country, we operate the same. We help European investments. We also facilitate dialogue to European investors and government of the respective countries, to change the business environment and change the legislation and regulatory issues, to get more investments and create more jobs. We are kind of a bridge for European trade and investments.
How has investments from Europe contributed to Myanmar economic development?
European investment is famous for a number of things. European investment is famous for being inclusive and sustainable. Most of European companies are dealing with very critical environmental issues, social issues, critical consumers and shareholders. That means the nature of the companies are streamline and organized in a way to meet the expectations of European domestic environment abroad. European investment is famous for being sustainable, promoting inclusive growth, operating environment in a friendly manner. I think that makes the difference from other investments.
Of course, European companies are famous not for competing on price but for competing on quality. That is an interesting aspect of European investment. Another fact is facilitating European investment is very expensive. When European investors lend abroad, it always starts with expensive aspects. European investment is localizing and investing in educating local staff and expand business local capacity. I think that is very unique to European investment.
How much influence current issues in Rakhine State have on EU investments?
I think there is no doubt about it. The situation in Rakhine also have negative impact on European companies looking at Myanmar to invest. It makes it more difficult for European companies to convince the shareholders to move the capital to Myanmar instead of other ASEAN countries. It definitely have an impact. Nevertheless, companies that are here know the potential of the country. I think European private sector dedicated to keep investing in Myanmar. They see that the way forward for political stability to include in economic agenda and create jobs. That is the way to achieve political stability. I think this is very much in line with the general aspects of European investors. Your recent European Chamber of Commerce Myanmar survey showed business sentiment being quite negative.
How long do you think it will continue?
When you look at the survey before 2016, how long it will continue is difficult to say. It depends on the speed of reform that is happening in Myanmar and the way that things are communicated internationally. Every high level meeting between private sector and Myanmar government that is delayed or suspended has a negative impact. There is so much stress that private investors have. I think the speed of incorporating Myanmar and the international business culture, meetings, agreements and building trust among different bodies will be crucial in deciding how long it will continue. Of course, political instability especially on the borders of Myanmar will be solved soon because it quickly dominates the image of the country and deceases the country’s opportunities. So we are trying to promote this Eurocham.
How does economic downturn in Myanmar affect European businesses and investment opportunities?
Any decision from regional headquarters or European headquarters, not to decide to invest in Myanmar or to delay a certain investment because of the many reasons that one can think of. It means that delay or cancelations of potential jobs. The quicker you can convince a company to invest and to build the trust to invest in Myanmar, Myanmar is very far. So, it means that there has to be a level of trust when companies bet the money here to get return. With the support of Myanmar government, we will create jobs. Any negative news or obstacle cause delay in decision making. In my opinion, it delays the opportunity for jobs in Myanmar. So, those jobs in European companies are famous for helping and investing local staff and building local knowhow. European businesses will be a part of not only technology transfer but also knowledge transfer to the country. I feel uncomfortable with this delay or postpone especially when I look at all the young Myanmar people who are very excited to find a new job and to be part of this new future. So, Eurocham is definitely doing the best to help European companies convince to invest in Myanmar. On the other hand, Eurocham is trying to have an open and frank dialogue with Myanmar government how we can secure with this consistencies.
From a business standpoint, what are the biggest challenges facing European business community in the foreseeable future?
We issued the Whitebook 2018 and we can download it for free on the website in Myanmar language. It includes recommendations of European industry how we can secure more investments and what the obstacles are for European investors, how these can be solved from involving all the right parties. I want to invite you to look at the whitebook, It will give you overview of what the problems are, what the solutions are to get more investments to the country.
If you could suggest one change in government policy, what would it be?
I would suggest many changes. Again in Whitebook, we have issued many recommendations and all of them are very important because you cannot have focus only on one sector. In the past, we have seen a lot of focus on oil and gas energy and telecommunications. I hope the continuation of the trend that the development in all the investment sectors in the future.