Myanmar is situated at a strategic crossroads between China, India and the Indochina Peninsula. Although approximately 70% of the population is Burmese, the country consists of dozens of ethnic minorities, some of whom have been engaged in an armed struggle against the central government for several decades. After gaining independence from the British Crown in 1948, Myanmar was one of the wealthiest countries in Southeast Asia in the 1950s. This economic prosperity declined sharply under the rule of a military junta from 1962 to 2011, when Myanmar became one of the poorest countries in the region.
The GDP of Myanmar in 2013-2014 was USD 56.8 billion. According to preliminary data from the 2014 national census (which estimated the population at 51.4 million), the average income per inhabitant is around USD 1.105, one of the lowest in Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
The analytical assessment of household living conditions carried out nationwide in 2009-2010 revealed that 26% of the population was living below the poverty line. According to the World Bank (which includes non-food products in the basket of household spending and spatial price differences), estimated poverty could even be as high as 37.5% of Myanmar’s population.
The country does, however, boast substantial assets: an abundance of raw materials (mining, timber, oil and gas); a vast domestic market of almost 57 million consumers; a cheap workforce; and strong regional integration as a result of its membership of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (since 1997) and close links with China and India. Agriculture lies at the heart of economic life in Myanmar, with 70% of the population living in rural areas.
The military powers, after revising the national constitution, agreed to hold elections in November 2010 (boycotted by the National League for Democracy), which strengthened the position of the Union Party for Solidarity and Development but also opened up parliament slightly to the opposition. Although the vast majority of national appointments made by President Thein Sein (the ex-prime minister) are former or current military officers, the government launched a series of political and economic reforms leading to a significant opening up of a country that had for so long been isolated internationally. The president pledged to make the economy one of his priorities, and a new law on foreign investment was adopted on 7 September 2012. The modernisation of the financial system, especially the banking network, is a major challenge for determining the continuation of the overall economic reforms, as well as the development of the private sector and foreign investment.
The EU indicated in April 2012 that it welcomed the development of European trade and investment as a way of contributing to the socio-economic growth of Myanmar while promoting corporate social and environmental responsibility. The lifting of EU sanctions in April 2013 (with the exception of the arms embargo), together with the re-integration of Myanmar into the European Generalised System of Preferences in July 2013, helped to reinforce the EU’s contribution to the country’s economic development. The United States, Australia and many other countries have also lifted their sanctions regimes either partially or totally.
In spite of the efforts of the Myanmar government to revive the economy and open up to foreign investment, development conditions continue to be weak, and regional equalities substantial. Poor populations mainly live in rural areas and are highly vulnerable to external hazards such as flooding, drought, cyclones and landslides. From a structural perspective, development problems can be largely explained by the lack of job opportunities; weak agricultural productivity; technology gaps and a lack of investment; poor coverage and lack of quality social services; and unfinished policies and programmes. In rural regions, the above factors result in widespread food insecurity and chronic malnutrition.
The Luxembourg Development Cooperation has not implemented any actions in Myanmar to date. The Development of Human Resources in the Hospitality and Tourism Sector and Capacity Building at the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism will start in 2015. This project is considered to be the first intervention funded by Luxembourg from the bilateral development assistance programme in the country.
The project seeks to deliver a plan for developing human resources in the tourism sector. At the same time, it aims to strengthen and re-orient the capacity of both the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism and the private sector. The aim is to align them with the needs of the job market and meet the expectations of visitors in terms of service quality.