Trade Guide: Myanmar

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Myanmar, or the Republic of the Union of Myanmar (formerly Burma), is the second largest country in Southeast Asia, with a population slightly over 51 million. Administratively, Myanmar has seven states and seven regions, many of which are divided along ethnic lines.

Customs, Technical Standards, and Trade Regulations

Myanmar’s standards and product regulations remain outdated, decentralized, and often disorganized. The government promulgates standards in many sectors, but few exist for imported goods, other than foodstuffs and pharmaceuticals. There are currently no product safety standards.

The responsibility for drafting and enforcing standards rests with a number of different government departments and agencies, but underfunding and inefficiency make enforcement and oversight problematic. Another challenge for foreign traders is that the government limits access to data and often refuses to share most government information with private citizens or businesses.

The primary government departments that set and enforce standards are: Ministry of Science and Technology; Myanmar Scientific and Technological Research Department; Ministry of Health’s Food and Drug Board of Authority; Food and Drug Administration; Myanmar Engineers Association; Yangon City Development Committee; Ministry of Rail Transportation’s Road Transport Administration Department; Ministry of Transport’s Inland Water Transport Department; and the Timber Certification Committee of Myanmar.

Other than for foodstuffs and medicines, there are generally no requirements for product certification. For imports, the government generally recognizes international product standard certifications as well as certifications from standards organizations in the U.S., the European Union, and Japan.

Different industrial sectors may issue labeling and marking guidelines for certain products in compliance with international or bilateral rules of origin. But few products require domestic labeling or are subject to marking rules, except for foodstuffs and medicines, which must be labeled with license numbers and production and expiry dates.

Trade Policy and Free Trade Agreements

The cornerstone of Myanmar’s trade policy is to reintegrate fully into the multilateral trading system. This is underpinned by the belief that this can both bring about a wide range of opportunities for the country’s exports and help it overcome its supply-side constraints.

At the same time, Myanmar’s trade policy is strongly influenced by its participation in ASEAN and ASEAN’s free-trade agreements with third countries. Government officials believe that full economic integration with ASEAN, as part of the ASEAN Economic Community, will help achieve Myanmar’s economic goals.

Myanmar’s trade policy will continue to stress private-sector development and agricultural productivity. Officials see the restructuring of special economic zones, coupled with new FDI, as complementing private-sector-led trade, infrastructure development, and the fostering of labor-intensive export industries. The government sees agriculture, in particular, as key to the country’s economic growth and poverty alleviation.

Economic reforms over the past three years have started to remove some of the most significant barriers to trade, including restrictive licensing requirements, export taxes, and arbitrary fixed exchange rates. However, Myanmar’s trade policies, which continue to evolve, can be confusing and opaque to its trading partners.

The government formally abolished its dual exchange rate system, which had hindered foreign trade and investment, in April 2012. The current exchange rate is a managed floating system that closely reflects market rates. However, the private financial sector, foreign exchange market, and regulatory framework remain significantly underdeveloped.

Government control of certain exports and a general lack of transparency on trade rules remain a concern of foreign businesses. For example, Myanmar maintains a list of restricted imports and exports, but information is not publicly available. Amendments to trade policy are usually announced in local newspapers, but often there is no dissemination of key changes. And while key ministries can authorize others to export teak, petroleum, natural gas, gems, jade, and pearls, they generally operate on a monopoly basis.

In addition to the WTO, Myanmar participates in the following FTAs, mostly through its membership in ASEAN:

  • Myanmar-US FTA
  • ASEAN-Australia and New Zealand FTA
  • ASEAN-India Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement
  • ASEAN-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership
  • ASEAN-China Comprehensive Partnership
  • Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) FTA
  • ASEAN-Korea FTA

The following FTAs are under negotiation or discussion:

  • Regional Cooperation Economic Partnership (RCEP)
  • ASEAN-Hong Kong, China FTA
  • ASEAN-Pakistan FTA
  • Comprehensive Economic Partnership for East Asia (CEPEA/ASEAN+6)
  • East Asia FTA (ASEAN+3)

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