Economy of Burma
Sakura Tower in Yangon
|1 April – 31 March|
|WTO, ASEAN, BIMSTEC|
|GDP||$112.972 billion (PPP) (2013 est.)|
|GDP rank||75th (nominal)|
|6.5% (2013 est.)|
GDP per capita
|$1,739.843 (PPP) (2013 est.)|
GDP by sector
|agriculture: 43%, industry: 20.5%, services: 36.5% (2011 est.)|
|8.9% (2011 est.)|
Population below poverty line
|32.53 million (2011 est.)|
Labour force by occupation
|agriculture: 70%, industry: 7%, services: 23% (2001)|
|agricultural processing; wood and wood products; copper, tin, tungsten, iron; cement, construction materials; pharmaceuticals; fertilizer; petroleum and natural gas; garments, jade and gems|
$9.543 billion (2011 est.)note: official export figures are grossly underestimated due to the value of timber, gems, narcotics, rice, and other products smuggled to Thailand, China, and Bangladesh (2011)
|natural gas, wood products, pulses, beans, fish, rice, clothing, jade and gems|
Main export partners
| Thailand 40.5%
Japan 7.4% (2012 est.)
$5.498 billion (2011 est.)note: import figures are grossly underestimated due to the value of consumer goods, diesel fuel, and other products smuggled in from Thailand, China, Malaysia, and India (2011)
|fabric, petroleum products, plastics, fertilizer, machinery, transport equipment, cement, construction materials, crude oil; food products, edible oil|
Main import partners
| China 37.0%
South Korea 8.7%
Malaysia 4.6% (2012 est.)
|$11 billion (2012)|
|Expenses||$4.272 billion (2011 est.)|
|Economic aid||recipient: $127 million (2001 est.)|
|$8 billion (as of January 2013)|
The Economy of Burma (Myanmar) is an emerging economy with an estimated nominal GDP of $59.43 billion and a purchasing power adjusted GDP of $111.1 billion. Real growth rate is estimated at 5.5% for the 2011 fiscal year.
Historically, Burma was the main trade route between India and China since 100 BC. The Mon Kingdom of lower Burma served as important trading center in the Bay of Bengal. After Burma was conquered by British, it became the wealthiest country in Southeast Asia. It was also once the world's largest exporter of rice. It produced 75% of the world's teak and had a highly literate population.
After a parliamentary government was formed in 1948, Prime Minister U Nu embarked upon a policy of nationalization. The government also tried to implement a poorly thought out Eight-Year plan. By the 1950s, rice exports had fallen by two thirds and mineral exports by over 96%. The 1962 coup d'état was followed by an economic scheme called the Burmese Way to Socialism, a plan to nationalize all industries. The catastrophic program turned Burma into one of the world's most impoverished countries.
In 2011, when new President Thein Sein's government came to power, Burma embarked on a major policy of reforms including anti-corruption, currency exchange rate, foreign investment laws and taxation. Foreign investments increased from US$300 million in 2009-10 to a US$20 billion in 2010-11 by about 667%. Large inflow of capital results in stronger Burmese currency, kyat by about 25%. In response, the government relaxed import restrictions and abolished export taxes. Despite current currency problems, Burmese economy is expected to grow by about 8.8% in 2011. After the completion of 58-billion dollar Dawei deep seaport, Burma is expected be at the hub of trade connecting Southeast Asia and the South China Sea, via the Andaman Sea, to the Indian Ocean receiving goods from countries in the Middle East, Europe and Africa, and spurring growth in the ASEAN region.
- 1 History
- 2 Industries
- 3 External trade
- 4 Macro-economic trends
- 5 Other statistics
- 6 Impact on population
- 7 External References
- 8 Footnotes
- 9 Further reading
- 10 External links
According to Michael Adas, Ian Brown, and other economic historians of Burma, Burma's pre-colonial economy in Burma was essentially a subsistence economy, with the majority of the population involved in rice production and other forms of agriculture. Burma also lacked a formal monetary system until the reign of King Mindon Min in the middle 19th century.
All land was technically owned by the Burmese monarch. Exports, along with oil wells, gem mining and teak production were controlled by the monarch. Burma was vitally involved in the Indian Ocean trade. Logged teak was a prized export that was used in European shipbuilding, because of its durability, and became the focal point of the Burmese export trade from the 1700s to the 1800s.
British Burma (1885 - 1948)
During British occupation, Burma was the second wealthiest country in Southeast Asia after the Philippines. It was also once the world's largest exporter of rice. During British administration, Burma supplied oil through the Burmah Oil Company. Burma also had a wealth of natural and labor resources. It produced 75% of the world's teak and had a highly literate population. The country was believed to be on the fast track to development.
After a parliamentary government was formed in 1948, Prime Minister U Nu attempted to make Burma a welfare state and adopted central planning. Rice exports fell by two thirds and mineral exports by over 96%. Plans were partly financed by printing money, which led to inflation.
The 1962 coup d'état was followed by an economic scheme called the Burmese Way to Socialism, a plan to nationalize all industries, with the exception of agriculture. The catastrophic program turned Burma into one of the world's most impoverished countries. Burma's admittance to least developed country status by the United Nations in 1987 highlighted its economic bankruptcy.
Military rule (1988 - 2011)
After 1988, the regime retreated from totalitarian socialism. It permitted modest expansion of the private sector, allowed some foreign investment, and received much needed foreign exchange. The economy is rated in 2009 as the least free in Asia (tied with North Korea). All fundamental market institutions are suppressed. Private enterprises are often co-owned or indirectly owned by state. The corruption watchdog organization Transparency International in its 2007 Corruption Perceptions Index released on 26 September 2007 ranked Burma the most corrupt country in the world, tied with Somalia.
The national currency is the kyat. Burma currently has a dual exchange rate system similar to Cuba. The market rate was around two hundred times below the government-set rate in 2006. In 2011, the Burmese government enlisted the aid of International Monetary Fund to evaluate options to reform the current exchange rate system, to stabilize the domestic foreign exchange trading market and creates economic distortions. The dual exchange rate system allows for the government and state-owned enterprises to divert funds and revenues, but also gives the government more control over the local economy and temporarily subdue inflation.
Inflation averaged 30.1% between 2005 and 2007. Inflation is a serious problem for the economy. In April 2007, the National League for Democracy organized a two-day workshop on the economy. The workshop concluded that skyrocketing inflation was impeding economic growth. "Basic commodity prices have increased from 30% to 60% since the military regime promoted a salary increase for government workers in April 2006," said Soe Win, the moderator of the workshop. "Inflation is also correlated with corruption." Myint Thein, an NLD spokesperson, added: "Inflation is the critical source of the current economic crisis."
In recent years, both China and India have attempted to strengthen ties with the government for economic benefit. Many nations, including the United States and Canada, and the European Union, have imposed investment and trade sanctions on Burma. The United States banned all imports from Burma, though this restriction was since lifted. Foreign investment comes primarily from People's Republic of China, Singapore, South Korea, India, and Thailand.
Economic liberalization (2011-present)
In 2012, the Asian Development Bank formally began re-engaging with the country, to finance infrastructure and development projects in the country. . The $512 million loan is the first issued by the ADB to Myanmar in 30 years and will target banking services, ultimately leading to other major investments in road, energy, irrigation and education projects.
In March 2012, a draft foreign investment law emerged, the first in more than 2 decades. This law would oversee unprecedented liberalization of the economy. Foreigners will no longer require a local partner to start a business in the country, and will be able to legally lease land. The draft law also stipulates that Burmese citizens must constitute at least 25% of the firm's skilled workforce, and with subsequent training, up to 50-75%. The draft includes a proposal to transform the Myanmar Investment Commission from a government-appointed body into an independent board. This could bring greater transparency to the process of issuing investment licenses, according to the proposed reforms drafted by experts and senior officials.
In a first ever countrywide study the Myanmar government found that 37 per cent of the nation’s population are unemployed and an average of 26 per cent live in poverty. 
Myanmar on January 28 has announced deals with international lenders to cancel or refinance nearly $6 billion of its debt, almost 60 per cent of what it owes to foreign lenders. Japan wrote off US$3 Billion, nations in the group of Paris Club wrote off US$2.2 Billion and Norway wrote off US$534 Million. 
Myanmar's inward foreign direct investment has steadily increased since its reform. The country approved US$4.4 billion worth of investment projects between January and November 2014. 
The major agricultural produce is rice which covers about 60% of the country's total cultivated land area. Rice accounts for 97% of total food grain production by weight. Through collaboration with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), 52 modern rice varieties were released in the country between 1966 and 1997, helping increase national rice production to 14 million tons in 1987 and to 19 million tons in 1996. By 1988, modern varieties were planted on half of the country's rice fields, including 98% of the irrigated areas. In 2011, Myanmar's total milled rice production accounted for 10.26 million tons, an increase from the 1.8 per cent back in 2010.
In northern Burma opium, bans have ended a century old tradition of growing poppy. Between 20,000 and 30,000 ex-poppyfarmers left the Kokang region as a result of the ban in 2002. People from the Wa region, where the ban was implemented in 2005, fled to areas where growing opium is still possible. Other ex-poppyfarmers are being relocated to areas near rubber plantations. These are often mono-plantations from Chinese investors.
The lack of an educated workforce skilled in modern technology contributes to the growing problems of the economy.
Today, the country lacks adequate infrastructure. Goods travel primarily across the Thai border (where most illegal drugs are exported) and along the Ayeyarwady River. Railroads are old and rudimentary, with few repairs since their construction in the late nineteenth century. Highways are normally unpaved, except in the major cities. Energy shortages are common throughout the country including in Yangon. More than 45 million of the country's population is without electricity, with 70 per cent of people living in rural areas.
Burma is also the world's second largest producer of opium, accounting for 8% of entire world production and is a major source of illegal drugs, including amphetamines. Other industries include agricultural goods, textiles, wood products, construction materials, gems, metals, oil and natural gas.
Illegal drug trade
Burma (Myanmar) is the largest producer of methamphetamines in the world, with the majority of ya ba found in Thailand produced in Burma, particularly in the Golden Triangle and Northeastern Shan State, which borders Thailand, Laos and China. Burmese-produced Ya ba is typically trafficked to Thailand via Laos, before being transported through the northeastern Thai region of Isan.
In 2010, Burma trafficked 1 billion tablets to neighboring Thailand. In 2009, Chinese authorities seized over 40 million tablets that had been illegally trafficked from Burma. Ethnic militias and rebel groups (in particular the United Wa State Army) are responsible for much of this production; however, the Burmese military units are believed to be heavily involved in the trafficking of the drugs.
Burma is also the 2nd largest supplier of opium (following Afghanistan) in the world, with 95% of opium grown in Shan State. Illegal narcotics have generated $1 to $2 billion USD in exports annually, with estimates of 40% of the country's foreign exchange coming from drugs. Efforts to eradicate opium cultivation have pushed many ethnic rebel groups, including the United Wa State Army and the Kokang to diversify into methamphetamine production.
Prior to the 1980s, heroin was typically transported from Burma to Thailand, before being trafficked by sea to Hong Kong, which was and still remains the major transit point at which heroin enters the international market. Now, drug trafficking has circumvented to southern China (from Yunnan, Guizhou, Guangxi, Guangdong) because of a growing market for drugs in China, before reaching Hong Kong.
The prominence of major drug traffickers have allowed them to penetrate other sectors of the Burmese economy, including the banking, airline, hotel and infrastructure industries. Their investment in infrastructure have allowed them to make more profits, facilitate drug trafficking and money laundering.
Oil and gas
- Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) is a national oil and gas company of Burma. The company is a sole operator of oil and gas exploration and production, as well as domestic gas transmission through a 1,900-kilometre (1,200 mi) onshore pipeline grid.
- The Yadana Project is a project to exploit the Yadana gas field in the Andaman Sea and to carry natural gas to Thailand through Myanmar.
- Sino-Burma pipelines refers to planned oil and natural gas pipelines linking the Burma's deep-water port of Kyaukphyu (Sittwe) in the Bay of Bengal with Kunming in Yunnan province, China.
- The Norwegian company Seadrill owned by John Fredriksen is involved in offshore oildrilling, expected to give the Burmese Military Junta oil and oil export revenues.
- Myanmar exported $3.5 billion worth of gas, mostly to Thailand in the fiscal year up to March 2012.
- Initiation to bid on oil exploration licenses for 18 of Myanmar’s onshore oil blocks has been released on January 18, 2013.
The Union of Myanmar's rulers depend on sales of precious stones such as sapphires, pearls and jade to fund their regime. Rubies are the biggest earner; 90% of the world's rubies come from the country, whose red stones are prized for their purity and hue. Thailand buys the majority of the country's gems. Burma's "Valley of Rubies", the mountainous Mogok area, 200 km (120 mi) north of Mandalay, is noted for its rare pigeon's blood rubies and blue sapphires.
In 2007, following the crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Myanmar, human rights organizations, gem dealers, and US First Lady Laura Bush called for a boycott of a Myanmar gem auction held twice yearly, arguing that the sale of the stones profits the dictatorial regime in that country. Debbie Stothard of the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma stated that mining operators used drugs on employees to improve productivity, with needles shared, raising the risk of HIV infection: "These rubies are red with the blood of young people." Brian Leber (41-year-old jeweler who founded The Jewellers' Burma Relief Project) stated that: "For the time being, Burmese gems should not be something to be proud of. They should be an object of revulsion. It's the only country where one obtains really top quality rubies, but I stopped dealing in them. I don't want to be part of a nation's misery. If someone asks for a ruby now I show them a nice pink sapphire."
Richard W. Hughes, author of Ruby and Sapphire, a Bangkok-based gemologist who has made many trips to Burma makes the point that for every ruby sold through the junta, another gem that supports subsistence mining is smuggled over the Thai border. Burma's gemstone industry is a cornerstone of the Burmese economy with exports topping $1 billion.
The permits for new gem mines in Mogoke, Mineshu and Nanyar state will be issued by the ministry according to a statement issued by the ministry on February 11. While many sanctions placed on the former regime were eased or lifted in 2012, the US has left restrictions on importing rubies and jade from Myanmar intact. According to recent amendments to the new Myanmar foreign investment law, there is no longer a minimum capital requirement for investments, except in mining ventures, which require substantial proof of capital and must be documented through a domestic bank. Another important clarification in the investment law is the dropping of foreign ownership restrictions in joint ventures, except in restricted sectors, such as mining, where FDI will be capped at 80 per cent. 
Since 1992, the government has encouraged tourism. Until 2008, fewer than 750,000 tourists entered the country annually, but there has been substantial growth over the past years. In 2012, 1.06 million tourists visited the country, and 1.8 million are expected to visit by the end of 2013.
Tourism is thus a growing sector of the economy of Burma. Burma has diverse and varied tourist attractions and is served internationally by numerous airlines via direct flights. Domestic and foreign airlines also operate flights within the country. Cruise ships also dock at Yangon. Overland entry with a border pass is permitted at several border checkpoints. The government requires a valid passport with an entry visa for all tourists and business people. As of May 2010, foreign business visitors from any country can apply for a visa on arrival when passing through Yangon and Mandalay international airports without having to make any prior arrangements with travel agencies. Both the tourist visa and business visa are valid for 28 days, renewable for an additional 14 days for tourism and 3 months for business. Seeing Burma through a personal tour guide is popular. Travelers can hire guides through travel agencies.
 Aung San Suu Kyi has requested that international tourists not visit Burma. The junta's forced labour programmes were focused around tourist destinations which have been heavily criticised for their human rights records. Even disregarding the obviously governmental fees, Burma’s Minister of Hotels and Tourism Major-General Saw Lwin recently admitted that the government receives a significant percentage of the income of private sector tourism services. Not to mention the fact that only a very small minority of impoverished ordinary people in Burma ever see any money with any relation to tourism.
Much of the country is completely off-limits to tourists, and the military very tightly controls interactions between foreigners and the people of Burma. They are not to discuss politics with foreigners, under penalty of imprisonment, and in 2001, the Myanmar Tourism Promotion Board issued an order for local officials to protect tourists and limit "unnecessary contact" between foreigners and ordinary Burmese people.
|Sr. No.||Description||2006–2007 Budget Trade Volume||2006–2007 Real Trade Volume|
|Export||Import||Trade Volume||Export||Import||Trade Volume|
|No||Financial Year||Export Value||Import Value||Trade Value (US$, 000,000)|
|Year||Gross Domestic Product||US dollar exchange||Inflation index (2000=100)|
Though foreign investment has been encouraged, it has so far met with only moderate success. This is because foreign investors have been adversely affected by the junta government policies and because of international pressure to boycott the junta government. The United States has placed trade sanctions on Burma. The European Union has placed embargoes on arms, non-humanitarian aid, visa bans on military regime leaders, and limited investment bans. Both the European Union and the U.S. have placed sanctions on grounds of human rights violations in the country. Many nations in Asia, particularly India, Thailand and China have actively traded with Burma. However, on April 22 the EU suspended economic and political sanctions against Burma.
The public sector enterprises remain highly inefficient and also privatization efforts have stalled. The estimates of Burmese foreign trade are highly ambiguous because of the great volume of black market trading. A major ongoing problem is the failure to achieve monetary and fiscal stability. Due to this, Burma remains a poor country with no improvement of living standards for the majority of the population over the past decade. The main causes for continued sluggish growth are poor government planning, internal unrest, minimal foreign investment and the large trade deficit. One of the recent government initiatives is to utilize Burma's large natural gas deposits. Currently, Burma has attracted investment from Thai, Malaysian, Filipino, Russian, Australian, Indian, and Singaporean companies. Trade with the US amounted to $243.56 million as of February 2013, accounting for 15 projects and just 0.58 per cent of the total, according to government statistics.
The Economist special report on Burma points to increased economic activity resulting from Burma's political transformation and influx of foreign direct investment from Asian neighbors. Near the Mingaladon Industrial Park, for example, Japanese-owned factories have risen from the "debris" caused by “decades of sanctions and economic mismanagement.” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has identified Burma as economically attractive market that will help stimulate the Japanese economy. Among its various enterprises, Japan is helping build the Thilawa Port, which is part of the Thilawa Special Economic Zone, and helping fix the electricity supply in Yangon.
Japan isn’t the largest investor in Myanmar. “Thailand, for instance, the second biggest investor in Myanmar after China, is forging ahead with a bigger version of Thilawa at Dawei, on Myanmar’s Tenasserim Coast. . . Thai rulers have for centuries been toying with the idea of building a canal across the Kra Isthmus, linking the Gulf of Thailand directly to the Andaman Sea and the Indian Ocean to avoid the journey round peninsular Malaysia through the Strait of Malacca.”
Dawei would give Thailand that connection. China, by far the biggest investor in Burma, has focused on constructing oil and gas pipelines that “crisscross the country, starting from a new terminus at Kyaukphyu, just below Sittwe, up to Mandalay and on to the Chinese border town of Ruili and then Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province.” This would prevent China from “having to funnel oil from Africa and the Middle East through the bottleneck around Singapore.”
According to the CIA World Factbook,
Burma, a resource-rich country, suffers from pervasive government controls, inefficient economic policies, and rural poverty. The junta took steps in the early 1990s to liberalize the economy after decades of failure under the "Burmese Way to Socialism," but those efforts stalled, and some of the liberalization measures were rescinded. Burma does not have monetary or fiscal stability, so the economy suffers from serious macroeconomic imbalances - including inflation, multiple official exchange rates that overvalue the Burmese kyat, and a distorted interest rate regime. Most overseas development assistance ceased after the junta began to suppress the democracy movement in 1988 and subsequently refused to honor the results of the 1990 legislative elections. In response to the government of Burma's attack in May 2003 on Aung San Suu Kyi and her convoy, the US imposed new economic sanctions against Burma - including a ban on imports of Burmese products and a ban on provision of financial services by US persons. A poor investment climate further slowed the inflow of foreign exchange. The most productive sectors will continue to be in extractive industries, especially oil and gas, mining, and timber. Other areas, such as manufacturing and services, are struggling with inadequate infrastructure, unpredictable import/export policies, deteriorating health and education systems, and corruption. A major banking crisis in 2003 shuttered the country's 20 private banks and disrupted the economy. As of December 2005, the largest private banks operate under tight restrictions limiting the private sector's access to formal credit. Official statistics are inaccurate. Published statistics on foreign trade are greatly understated because of the size of the black market and unofficial border trade - often estimated to be as large as the official economy. Burma's trade with Thailand, China, and India is rising. Though the Burmese government has good economic relations with its neighbors, better investment and business climates and an improved political situation are needed to promote foreign investment, exports, and tourism.
The level of international aid to Burma ranks amongst the lowest in the world (and the lowest in the Southeast Asian region)—Burma receives the $4 per capita in development assistance, as compared to the average of $42.30 per capita.
In April 2007, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) identified the financial and other restrictions that the military government places on international humanitarian assistance in the Southeast Asian country. The GAO report, entitled "Assistance Programs Constrained in Burma," outlines the specific efforts of the Burmese government to hinder the humanitarian work of international organizations, including by restricting the free movement of international staff within the country. The report notes that the regime has tightened its control over assistance work since former Prime Minister Khin Nyunt was purged in October 2004.
Furthermore, the reports states that the military government passed guidelines in February 2006, which formalized Burma's restrictive policies. According to the report, the guidelines require that programs run by humanitarian groups "enhance and safeguard the national interest" and that international organizations coordinate with state agents and select their Burmese staff from government-prepared lists of individuals. United Nations officials have declared these restrictions unacceptable.
The shameful behavior of Burma's military regime in tying the hand of humanitarian organizations is laid out in these pages for all to see, and it must come to an end," said U.S. Representative Tom Lantos (D-CA). "In eastern Burma, where the military regime has burned or otherwise destroyed over 3,000 villages, humanitarian relief has been decimated. At least one million people have fled their homes and many are simply being left to die in the jungle."
U.S. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) said that the report "underscores the need for democratic change in Burma, whose military regime arbitrarily arrests, tortures, rapes and executes its own people, ruthlessly persecutes ethnic minorities, and bizarrely builds itself a new capital city while failing to address the increasingly urgent challenges of refugee flows, illicit narcotics and human trafficking, and the spread of HIV/AIDS and other communicable diseases." 
Electricity - production: 5.961 billion kWh (2006 est.)
Electricity - consumption: 4.298 billion kWh (2006 est.)
Electricity - exports: 0 kWh (2007)
Electricity - imports: 0 kWh (2007)
Agriculture - products: rice, pulses, beans, sesame, groundnuts, sugarcane; hardwood; fish and fish products
Currency: 1 kyat (K) = 100 pyas
Exchange rates: kyats per US dollar - 1,205 (2008 est.), 1,296 (2007), 1,280 (2006), 5.82 (2005), 5.7459 (2004), 6.0764 (2003) note: unofficial exchange rates ranged in 2004 from 815 kyat/US dollar to nearly 970 kyat/US dollar, and by year end 2005, the unofficial exchange rate was 1,075 kyat/US dollar; data shown for 2003-05 are official exchange rates
Foreign Direct Investment In the first nine months of 2012-2013, Myanmar has received investment of USD 794 million. China has biggest of investment commitments for this fiscal.
Foreign Trade Total foreign trade for 2012 was recorded to USD 13.3 billion. It was 27% of Myanmar's GDP.
Impact on population
The current state of the Burmese economy has also had a significant impact on the demographics of Burma, as economic hardship results in extreme delays of marriage and family building. The average age of marriage in Burma is 27.5 for men, 26.4 for women, almost unparalleled in the region, with the exception of developed countries like Singapore.
Burma also has a low fertility rate, of 2.07 children per woman (2010), especially as compared to other Southeast Asian countries of similar economic standing, like Cambodia (3.18) and Laos (4.41), representing a significant decline from 4.7 in 1983, despite the absence of a national population policy. This is at least partly attributed to the economic strain that additional children place on the family income, and has resulted in the prevalence of illegal abortions in the country, as well as use of other forms of birth control.
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