Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Union Minister for Commerce aims to triple the value of trade within his five-year term and will focus on promoting exports to help reduce the country’s widening trade deficit, as well as tackling smuggling networks to formalise illegal trade.

U Than Myint made the comments during a meeting with traders in Yangon, in which he asked for feedback and suggestions for new economic policies.

“Our country’s exports as a percentage of gross domestic product is very low. To improve this, we must do two things,” he said. The first is to support local industries and improve their quality for export and the second is to find markets for these products. To increase exports threefold, he will focus on agricultural development, encourage small and medium-sized industry and continue to promote the export of natural resources.

“For example, to develop the farming sector, we must improve access to rural finance, and finance for small and mid-sized enterprises,” he said.

Demand for products in the international market will be high, so long as the ministry cooperates with private enterprises and regional associations, he added. Myanmar’s largest trading partners are its neighbouring countries, he added, though trade links with Europe and the US improved during the former government term.

Now the ministry must actively promote new markets in ASEAN, the EU and the US. The new government will continue to follow the national export strategy drawn up by the previous administration, and will try hard to combat illegal trade.

“Some say the value of illegal trade is as high as the value of legal trade. It is difficult to study this systematically. It is a very difficult problem and can only be solved by cooperation between many associations,” the minister said.

He did not directly answer questions about how the new government planned to eradicate smuggling. In December, the former government abolished a mobile taskforce charged with preventing illegal goods from entering the country.

Government officials said at the time that immediate action to control illicit trade following the mobile taskforce’s abolition, such as opening more border gates, punishing illegal traders and developing an electronic system for border checkpoints, would not be taken.

U Than Myint said that the teams had been effective. “It is better to stop illegal trade through respective regional authorities than through the central government. We will [tackle smuggling] using this system,” he said.

Everyone must cooperate for the project to be successful, he said, adding that it depends on the rule of law. “There are many sectors where we need to take action against smugglers. We must do this as a national duty and authority must be given to regional associations,” he said.

Translation by Khine Thazin Han

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