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DVB Interview International spoke to Romain Caillaud, managing director of the recently opened Rangoon office of Southeast Asia-focused corporate advisory firm Vriens and Partners.
Caillaud told to DVB about the nature of economic development in Burma and who it might be benefiting.
“There seems to be an economic boom,” he said. “But how much of that is being felt outside of Yangon [Rangoon], or the main cities, in the rural areas, remains to be seen.”
“One could look at data or one could look at people and ask their opinion. My impression is that for most persons who actually rely on the land, on agriculture, they are still yet to see a difference in their life.”
DVB asked Caillaud how Burma would manage to build the skilled workforce it needs to underpin economic development. He responded that in a country where the education system has suffered from under-funding and neglect, training a workforce would take time.
He did suggest that there is an alternative.
“An opportunity for Myanmar [Burma] is to attract back some of its citizens who moved abroad over the last decades. In Thailand or Malaysia for manual workers, in Singapore for technicians and people who work in the financial sector, and beyond in the UK, the US, in Australia, so that’s also a pool of qualified workers originally from Myanmar who could come back here and help support the economy.”
Caillaud said that foreign companies, particularly those that have experience operating in emerging markets, have a pivotal role to play in the training of local workers. The training and exposure that foreign firms provide Burmese workers is where those companies will provide value to the country.
DVB asked how and why companies are making the leap into Burma as the economy rapidly expands. Caillaud responded that while we are seeing a lot of companies venturing into Burma, each business programme is tailored not only to opportunities in Burma, but how the plan would fit into overall regional strategies.
“Many majors of big oil and gas companies from around the world participated in the recent offshore gas tender, but for example BP — a very prominent British company — did not. That’s because it is tied up in other countries and has other concerns or issues to deal with. So just because there are opportunities in one sector doesn’t mean the opportunity is of interest to any company.”
On the issue of responsible investment, Caillaud believes that while doing business in Burma might have risks, they are not unique and many foreign firms have experience working in the developing world. “Often these large companies have processes in place and have experience dealing with such issues in other countries,” he said.
What these companies need, he said, is “an understanding of local context, an understanding of what the people and the government of Myanmar want from them and what will be their expectations.”
He says hiring locally is the best way to gain those insights, to “localise” their responsible practices.
Asked about the Rangoon Stock Exchange due to launch in 2015, Caillaud joked that we’re unlikely to see the “Wolf of Yangon” emerging any time soon.
He believes that the deadline for the stock exchange is overly ambitious, but that a stock exchange would be a significant boost for companies looking to raise profits.
Of those companies, their profits and their dealings with the government, Caillaud believes that Burma is becoming a more transparent place for business, but that there’s still a lot of work to do.
He says that Naypyidaw has made positive moves to “route out the system which is at the core of corruption”, but that “overall, Myanmar does not perform so badly compared to its ASEAN neighbours.”
“It is important to ask Myanmar to meet performance standards that it can achieve, in a realistic manner, you can’t ask Myanmar to be Switzerland, or Norway, in the coming two years.”