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Unburdened by Sanctions, Myanmar Expects $1.5BN in Garment Exports

According to the secretary of the Myanmar Garment Entrepreneurs Association, Khine Khine Nwe, the income from garment exports for the developing nation could total as much as $1.5 billion this fiscal year.

Khine Khine Nwe dropped that bombshell of a number during a statement to the press on March 16 in Rangoon, during a contract signing between Myanmarese and Australian merchants. For the 2013 fiscal year, Myanmar’s garment sector pulled in nearly $1 billion, up from $800 million the previous year.

Most experts attribute the increased export power of Myanmar to a significant easing of international sanctions on the once oppressive regime. Last July, the E.U. reinstated Myanmar’s status as a beneficiary of its Generalized System of Preferences program (GSP), permitting it duty free access to the markets of its twenty-seven members. Also, the E.U. created a special joint task force with Myanmar to promote the environmentally sustainable manufacturing of garments. Additionally, the U.S. government has eliminated most of the barriers to American businesses investing directly in Myanmar.

Burma embarked upon an aggressive agenda of democratic reform in 2012, with plans to liberalize its previously cloistered markets and attract foreign investment. In response to these reforms, The U.S. government has eased sanctions on the country. Nevertheless, progress has been slow, with U.S. exports to Burma reaching only $145 million in 2013, and imports of $30 million.

The signposts of Myanmar’s future progress have been many, even leading competitors like Cambodia and Vietnam to fret anxiously about its economic ascendency. Once infamous for its political oppressiveness, the government has made widely lauded strides toward both democratization and market liberalization. A bevy of legal reforms passed in 2012, including the Labor Organization Law and Trade Disputes Act, empowering workers to form unions, bargain collectively and address grievances with their employers.

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Also, major Western companies are starting to take note of the opportunities within Myanmar’s market liberalization. In October 2013, the Ford Motor Corporation opened a new showroom in Rangoon and Chevrolet quickly followed suit. GE opened an office on Rangoon as well, and pledged $7 million to various corporate responsibility programs. And Coca Cola announced its plans to invest upwards of $200 million in Myanmar over the next five years.

Myanmar currently has more than 300 garment factories employing 250,000 workers and some expect those numbers to double by 2015. The IMF forecasts that the country will enjoy GDP growth that reaches 7.5% in 2014.