Doing business

Current business situation

Myanmar’s natural resources endowments offers significant long term opportunities for trade and business investment. The government is continuing major reforms designed to improve the business climate and provide more favourable conditions for foreign businesses entering the market. The opening of special economic zones, the granting of oil and gas exploration, telecommunications and banking licences has generated significant investment by local standards. The entry of international financial institutions, the lifting of United States sanctions on Myanmar nationals and corporations in October 2016 and the opening of the Myanmar Stock Exchange are all positive signs. Australian businesses are closely watching the revision to Myanmar’s Investment Law, the company’s act and the new mining rules which should also stimulate investment.

While these developments are welcome, further progress is required before Myanmar can be considered a stable business environment. Myanmar ranked 170 out of 190 on the World Bank’s Doing Business Index in 2017 and 136 out of 176 on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2016. Factors such as the strength of the rule of law, enforceability of private property and intellectual property (IP) rights, judicial independence and the ease of obtaining information on business regulations are considered in the calculation of these third-party assessments. As such, no single assessment should be taken as a definitive view on the business environment in Myanmar or substitute for independent assessment.

Sanctions

Companies considering doing business in Myanmar should familiarise themselves with Australia’s autonomous sanctions relating to Myanmar, available on the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT)’s website.

The Australian Government lifted travel and financial sanctions against Myanmar in July 2012, although an arms embargo has been maintained. As a consequence, Australian law currently prohibits to Myanmar:

  1. The supply, sale or transfer of arms and related materiel.
  2. The provision of technical advice, assistance or training, a financial service or financial or other assistance, related to:
    1. The direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer of arms or related materiel.
    2. The manufacture, maintenance or use of arms or related materiel.

Companies should also be aware that the Minister for Foreign Affairs retains the capacity to re-impose targeted travel and financial sanctions in relation to Myanmar under the Autonomous Sanctions Regulations 2011 if required.

Australian companies should, nevertheless, be aware that certain third party extraterritorial sanctions remain in force and may apply to them. The Australian Government is unable to provide advice on the possible application of the laws of third countries to a company’s business dealings in Myanmar. Companies concerned about third party sanctions should contact the relevant government authorities of those countries and seek legal advice.

Business opportunities

The Australian Government normalised its trade relationship with Myanmar in April 2012 and Austrade’s office has been operating in Yangon from June 2013.

Austrade has identified the following sectors as offering business opportunities for Australian exporters and investors:

  • education and training in Australia or in-county
  • mining and related technology and services
  • oil and gas extraction, and related technology and services
  • major infrastructure projects, including electricity generation, road and rail projects, airports and port facilities, and building construction
  • agricultural services and technology associated with post-harvest techniques, seed and seed cultivation, irrigation and improved water usage, improved farming techniques and the development of a livestock industry
  • financial and professional services
  • food and beverage products for premium retail, hospitality and food processing sectors.

Australian companies interested in doing business in Myanmar may wish to consider a market familiarisation visit to identify further opportunities.

Business culture

Myanmar has a range of religious communities, although Buddhism is the dominant belief. Buddhist culture places great emphasis on harmony and respect. Myanmar people are friendly, but they do expect business people to be polite, quiet, patient and respect their cultural norms. It is important to build relationships with Myanmar counterparts and recognise that business decisions are not made quickly.

Normal business attire is acceptable. It is common practice for Myanmar people to give government officials or those at a VIP event, a modest gift of little commercial value such as an item of clothing, an office pen or standard company labelled item.

The Myanmar people refer to each other by their full names and title. On introduction, it is important not to shorten a person’s name. Some Myanmar people have anglicised their names and may invite you to use this when addressing them. Business cards are an important part of the business culture and it is common practice to hand them out with the right hand, using the left hand to support the right arm near the elbow.

Setting up in Myanmar

Visiting Myanmar for market familiarisation and an initial market assessment prior to establishing a representative office or a joint venture arrangement is advisable for a first-hand appreciation of the business environment.

Given the developing nature of the economy, the changing regulatory environment and the presence of state-owned enterprises and major conglomerates in the market, obtaining information on individual businesses and market conditions can be challenging. It is important therefore, to remain up to date with changes in market conditions.

Australian companies may also wish to contact international business chambers or the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI) to gain more information about the market and consult other sources available in the links and resources section at the bottom of this page.

Banking and Finance

According to the Central Bank of Myanmar there are 24 private domestic banks and four state-owned banks in Myanmar. There are also 12 foreign bank branches with licences to operate including the Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Limited. The international banks have restricted operating licences that allow them to offer limited banking services to foreign companies and to domestic banks in Myanmar.

Organising payments into and out of Myanmar has been difficult in the past. Since the lifting of restrictions by the United States in November 2016 and with the entry of international credit/debit card operators it has now become much easier to transfer money to Myanmar. Automatic Teller Machines are now readily available in most large cities and major hotels, shops and restaurants will generally accept payment by credit or debit card.

However securing payment and establishing the credit worthiness of a buyer in Myanmar is still challenging. Australian businesses should ensure that the buyer is able to arrange international payments. It is recommended that advice be sought from your bank in Australia on these arrangements.

Links and resources

Government, business and trade

Asian Development Bank (Myanmar)
Attorney General Department (Foreign Bribery)
Australian Embassy in Myanmar
Australian Human Rights Commission
Australia Myanmar Chamber of Commerce 
DFAT Myanmar Country Page
Directorate of Investment and Company Administration (Myanmar)
Embassy of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar in Australia
Heritage Foundation
IATA Myanmar page
International Labour Organisation Helpdesk for Business on International Labour Standards
International Labour Organisation (ILO) Yangon
International Monetary Fund (Myanmar)
Ministry of Commerce
Ministry of Immigration and Population
Ministry of National Planning and Economic Development
Myanmar Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative
Smartraveller
Transparency International (Myanmar country profile)
Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry
World Bank (Myanmar)
World Trade Organization (Myanmar)
Yangon Yellow Pages

News and media

Eleven Myanmar
Frontier Myanmar
The Irrawaddy Magazine
Mizzima
Myanmar Times

Please note: This list of websites and resources is not definitive. Inclusion in this list does not imply endorsement by Austrade. The information provided is a guide only. The content is for information and carries no warranty; as such, the addressee must exercise their own discretion in its use. Australia’s anti-bribery laws apply overseas and Austrade will not provide business related services to any party who breaches the law and will report credible evidence of any breach. For further information, please see foreign bribery information and awareness pack.