But a lot of that growth might not be conducive to small businesses or job creation. Exports and inward foreign investment are almost entirely based on natural resources such oil, gas, hydropower — sectors that might bring in vast revenues but not a huge number of jobs for the country’s young.
7 out of 10 Burmese work in agriculture, much of which is low-tech, low-yield subsistence — while 32% percent of the population lives under the poverty line. The country has the lowest GDP per capita in Southeast Asia and only a quarter of the population has electricity.
Job creation is the cornerstone of economic policy for Aung San Suu Kyi, who described her country as sitting on an unemployment “time bomb” when speaking at the World Economic Forum in June, while urging investors to try provide jobs for young Burmese.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Similarly, the military-in-disguise civilian government headed by President Thein Sein, a former army man and Prime Minister of the old military dictatorship that formally ceded control after its proxy party won a rigged election in late 2010, is hoping that a new foreign investment law coupled with low labor costs will attract foreign business.
That’s a maybe, for now, and while companies such as General Electric and Coca-Cola have investments lined up for Burma, there’s little indication yet that Rangoon will play host to the sort of mass production job-hub industrial parks seen in neighbors such as Thailand and Vietnam — no matter what laws the government passes.
“The new foreign investment law isn’t perfect by any means, and gives a lot of discretion to the investment commission to rule on whether a proposed investment is valid or not, opening the way for possible corruption,” says Jared Bissinger, an economist who specializes on Burma.