In the build up to The Training Gateway’s upcoming trade mission to Myanmar and Malaysia this May, we look into the business infrastructure, practices and etiquette of Myanmar.
Myanmar has a population of over 51 million and is the second largest country in Southeast Asia in terms of area. However, as recently as 2001 and 2007 the previous regime actively aimed to deter external investment. Although since 2011 there has been rapprochement with the West, Myanmar is undoubtedly still feeling the effects of EU sanctions that were only fully lifted in 2013. As a result of these sanctions, there is still a real shortage of international trade going through Myanmar, and the new government has made welcoming new business to the country an absolute priority.
The three major cities of Myanmar have, somewhat confusingly, all served as the nation’s capital at some point in the past 100 years. Yangon is by far the largest city in Myanmar, with a population of around 7.4 million. Located in the South of the country, Yangon was the capital of Myanmar until 2007. Many of the country’s industrial estates are based in the city, and if an international organisation has an office in the country it is more often than not located in Yangon. Nay Pyi Taw is the nation’s new capital, and has a population of approximately 1.2 million. Located in central Myanmar, Nay Pyi Taw is one of the 10 fastest growing cities in the world. Manadalay has a population of 1.7 million, and was the country’s last royal capital. It is considered the economic hub of Upper Myanmar.
Business Practices and Etiquette
Visiting foreign businessmen would be expected to dress in a suit or smart casual, a shirt or polo shirt with smart trousers for example. Businesswomen should avoid clothes that show their shoulders or legs. It is also common to remove your shoes when entering an office.
Many business meetings in Myanmar are conducted in English, however it should be noted that outside the major cities, English is not commonly spoken. Furthermore, visitors should be aware that although Burmese is the main language of the country, dialects and language can fluctuate fairly significantly based on geography. Businessmen in Myanmar will generally greet each other with a handshake, likewise if a businesswoman offers her hand it is considered appropriate to shake it. However, a man should not offer his hand to a woman, instead a small bow is considered appropriate. In general, male to female contact should be avoided in public.
Exchanging of business cards is common in Myanmar, and it is considered polite to take a moment to read the card fully. Furthermore, Myanmar has a deep culture of hospitality and the presenting of gifts is not uncommon at a first meeting. Where possible, a reciprocal gift should be given at a future opportunity. Building business relationships in Myanmar can take time, often a first meeting (and sometimes a second) can solely serve to build a friendship and foster trust. Patience and friendliness are key.
The Burmese government has taken multiple steps to open up its economy; the World Bank and Asian Development Bank now both have offices in the country, the Tokyo Stock Exchange are working on plans to establish Myanmar’s stock exchange and new laws have been drafted with the aim of simplifying and encouraging foreign exchange and investment. However, as things presently stand it can be very difficult to transfer money into Myanmar. Foreign bank and credit cards are seldom accepted, whilst ATMs are few and far between and though some large international banks have opened offices in Yangon, their presence outside the city is extremely limited.
Any other business Infrastructure in Myanmar is still extremely limited, particularly outside the major cities. Transport links are inconsistent, and mobile and fixed line networks are very limited. Only 25% of the country has access to the national power grid, which is unreliable at best. Finally, with investment and tourism on the increase, there has been known to be hotel room shortages in the major cities, so advanced booking is essential.
Without doubt, Myanmar represents a challenging prospect for those wishing to do business there. However, those that do so have the opportunity to secure business partnerships for life in an emerging market rich in natural resources that bridges China and India.
If you would be interested in joining the Training Gateway on our trade mission to Malaysia & Myanmar this May, find out more here.