Following a slackening of Myanmar’s once oppressive restrictions on commerce, Western nations have been eyeing it as a potential goldmine of untapped opportunity. To this end, the European Union (EU) has created a special joint task force with Myanmar to promote the environmentally sustainable manufacturing of garments.
The primary purpose of the task force, recently convened in Yangon, is to prepare small and medium sized businesses for foreign investment in the future by increasing the skill levels of the native workforce, enlarging production capacity and educating factory managers.
Approximately 20 percent of the manufacturers that currently have membership in the Myanmar Garment Manufacturers’ Association (MGMA) will be selected to participate in the program. Those decisions will ultimately be made by EU authorities with the aim of bring the participants up to EU regulatory standards.
The task force is the result of a general rapprochement between the EU and Myanmar, which only recently concluded a major summit designed to solidify commercial ties between the two. The bilateral talks generally focused on boosting trade but also discussed a wide range of related issues including revamping the legal system, private property protections and rebuilding a long neglected infrastructure. Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief, said, “In partnership, you know, it’s not about coming to impose it’s coming to say: these are the things we know. European countries represented here, European businesses represented here, from all over the EU know very well the journey that has to be taken for a nation to come from oppression to freedom, and they want to support this country on that journey.”
Others expressed cautious skepticism, however, noting that many of the tyrannical practices that typified Myanmar’s government over the last half-century remain unrevised. The country has also been roiled by ethnic conflict, particularly regarding the Muslim population living along the northern border with Bangladesh. Dissident leader Aung San Suu Kyi said, “I am here to encourage you to invest in the right way, in the truly responsible way, which is taking into consideration the political and legal dimensions of investment.”