Myanmar's Economic Outlook Improving but Broad Reforms Still Needed

News Release | 11 April 2012

MANILA, PHILIPPINES - Myanmar is poised for a period of rising economic growth, but the country needs to embark on a comprehensive program of reforms to realize its potential and reduce widespread poverty, according to a forecast of the country's growth, contained in a new report from the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

The Asian Development Outlook 2012 (ADO 2012) projects 6% GDP growth for Myanmar in FY2012, up from an estimated 5.5% in FY2011. Myanmar's economic prospects are bolstered by recent policy reforms and projected increases in gas exports.

"Myanmar is making a lot of the right moves to revitalize its economy, laying a foundation for further foreign investment and commodity exports with currency changes, land reforms and tax incentives," said Craig Steffensen, ADB's Thailand Country Director. "For Myanmar to ensure growth is sustainable and benefits all of the country's people, the government will have to accelerate reforms and enhance investment in education, health and infrastructure."

Myanmar is one of the poorest countries in the world, with one in four of the country's 60 million people living in poverty. Three out of four people have no access to electricity.

ADO 2012 says that reforms needed to stimulate growth and significantly reduce poverty include strengthening public institutions, expanding access to finance, and better workforce skills training. A simpler and broader tax structure with greater emphasis on direct taxation would bolster government revenue and be fairer to the poor.

More areas of the economy should be opened to the private sector, the report notes, along with improved regulations, laws and policies for businesses. Closer linkages with neighbors would better enable Myanmar's businesses to participate in regional markets, as well as global production chains.

The report notes that the move to a managed float of the kyat, which took effect 1 April 2012, is a promising reform towards exchange rate unification and transparency. This measure will expose inefficiencies in state enterprises that dominate parts of the economy, however, necessitating further reforms including transparent subsidies and possible privatization.

International tourist arrivals rose by 26% in FY2011, partially in response to political and economic reforms. Gas exports increased by nearly 15% to an estimated $3 billion. The report notes that a possible easing of economic sanctions could lead to even higher levels of trade and investment.