Norway has a long-standing relationship with Myanmar which dates back to the economic sanction period where Norway supported democratic movements in Burma including the then controversial Democratic Voice of Burma radio station. Norway’s awarding the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was also seen as highly controversial at the time. Following the Cyclone Nargis which hit Myanmar hard in 2008, Norway initiated talks with the military regime in order to provide assistance to the population and at the same time they encouraged dialogue and pushed for democratisation of the country. Norway was the first western country to lift the economic sanctions against Burma in 2012. Following the lifting of the sanctions, several ministerial visits and trade delegations have taken place. These efforts culminated with the State Visits of H.E. President U Thein Sein to Norway in 2013 and Their Majesties King Harald and Queen Sonja to Myanmar in 2014.
Norway places great emphasis on the promotion of responsible business conduct in Myanmar, and Norwegian companies have an important role to play. The work Norway supports through organisations such as the Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business (MCRB) is very important in terms of setting international norms and putting ‘best practice’ in the area of responsible business conduct on the agenda. Business ethics, corporate conduct and environmental sustainability are key principals in this regard. Norwegian companies entering Myanmar can act as role models by setting high standards, thereby building capacity and improving the livelihood for the people.
There is a great need for private sector development in Myanmar. The country needs the economic growth and job creation that private sector investment can offer. A dynamic private sector is critical for long-term, sustainable poverty eradication through creating value and broadly based wealth, tax revenues and productive jobs. Better standards of living will also help to propel further democratisation. In this context, Norwegian companies have a unique opportunity to compliment the local business environment towards realising long-term goals, and to help the country leapfrog into a modern and vibrant society.
Myanmar is not an easy country to enter and things take a long time to materialise. This is not a country for small start-up countries entering Asia for the first time, unless there is a documented demand for a specific Norwegian product or service. Rather, mid-sized to large Norwegian companies with existing operations in Asia stand a much better chance to succeed, not least because they are able to sustain operations for a long period of time before making a profit. Generally, we see that it takes a minimum of five years before companies see any return on investments in the country. Our advice is for Norwegian companies to thread carefully and to do proper due diligence evaluations on potential partners in Myanmar, both local and foreign.