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Myanmar Economy May See Annual 8% Growth for a Decade, ADB Says

Myanmar’s economy may grow as much as 8 percent a year over the next decade as inflation remains low and the government increases trade ties with neighbors China and India, according to the Asian Development Bank.

The near-term outlook for the economy, one-tenth the size of neighboring Thailand, is “relatively upbeat” because of higher foreign investment and commodity sales, the ADB said in a report today. Annual growth of 8 percent may triple per capita gross domestic product to $3,000 by 2030, it said.

“Myanmar has rich natural resources, a plentiful youth population and a strategic location in the region,” said Cyn-Young Park, the ADB’s assistant chief economist, who co-wrote the report. “All these will help Myanmar achieve very strong and inclusive growth in a fairly short time.”

Myanmar President Thein Sein has taken steps to modernize the economy and allow greater political freedoms since taking power last year, prompting Western nations to ease sanctions and attracting companies such as Coca-Cola Co. and Visa Inc. He is seeking to create jobs before national elections in 2015.

The government should “urgently” develop the agricultural sector, which employs almost two-thirds of Myanmar’s workforce, Park said. About 20 percent of the country’s land area is used to grow crops, and about a fifth of that is irrigated, according to the ADB.

“The potential of exploiting its own agricultural resources to improve productivity is enormous,” Park said. “This is the low-hanging fruit for the country which can benefit a large population in a very short time period.”

Growth Risks

Risks to Myanmar’s growth outlook include weak macro-economic management, inadequate infrastructure and low tax revenues. About a quarter of the population has access to electricity and broadband Internet connections are sparse, the report said.

While a law passed last month gives the central bank more autonomy, policy makers will face challenges to keep the currency stable and inflation under control as more money flows into the country, the ADB said. Myanmar abandoned a fixed exchange rate in April and is taking steps to loosen restrictions on capital flows.

“Maintaining macro-stability is going to be the key at least over the medium term for the country,” Park said. “The central bank needs to be stronger and stay rather independent in terms of monetary operations and fiscal management.”

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