While some view Myanmar as the Wild West, others find it more similar to late 20th-century Thailand. As a market, Myanmar is an underserved vessel waiting to be filled, attracting newcomers with promises of first-mover advantage. Prospects are in the air as the surge of foreign investment means a rise in income and more discerning consumers. The former capital, Yangon, remains the country’s business hub, and neighbourhoods are dominated by ethnicities trading in their specialities: Chinese gold merchants, Indian sellers of hardware, Burmese clothes vendors.
Though initially reluctant, Thai investors are now flocking into the country. A few of them are present at “Business Opportunities in Myanmar”, a seminar where they can hear personal accounts told by Thailand’s seasoned frontiersmen. “We see opportunities in neighbouring countries, especially Myanmar, for owners of successful businesses in Thailand,” begins Siriporn Nurugsa, an executive at the Thailand Board of Investment (BOI) and a member of the panel.
Two decades ago, Myanmar’s population was recorded at over 60 million. Today some expect the current census to yield a count as high as 80 million. Boonlert Chodchoy, managing director at C.C. Auto Part Co, Ltd, says his recent trip to Yangon was an eye-opener. “It surprised me because I had been getting only one side of the picture. Myanmar isn’t really like that.”
Thailand has reasons to find its AEC partner particularly attractive. The countries’ proximity means goods can be transported over land and flights are just over an hour. As a predominantly Buddhist country, it shares similar customs. People have access to Thai television and are amiable towards Thais. A “Made in Thailand” label on products signifies quality and durability.
Owners of consumer goods, processed foods and construction businesses won’t find a better time to look west. Automobile-related industries and services are especially lucrative. With prices plummeting due to legal and economic liberalizations, the country has seen an influx of imported cars, led by second-hand Japanese models and their secondhand parts.