Photographer: Taylor Weidman
Travel

Making Up for Lost Time in Myanmar

Myanmar was the world’s top rice exporter before five decades of military dictatorship turned it into Southeast Asia’s poorest nation. Fast-forward to 2016 and the vast frontier market of 56 million people is finally open for business. Photography by Taylor Weidman for Bloomberg.

  1. 1

    Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won by a landslide in elections in November, and party members watched last week as a confidant of the Nobel laureate was sworn in as the first democratically elected civilian leader in more than a half-century.

  2. 2

    But unlocking the nation’s full potential will require a delicate balancing act — a multifaceted strategy that will reduce poverty while avoiding the pitfall of rampant development that still scars some of Myanmar’s Southeast Asian neighbors.

  3. Agriculture
    3

    Agriculture

    Farming still accounts for about 60 percent of Myanmar’s economy and employs an even larger proportion of its population. The country has an ambitious plan to regain its position as the world’s biggest rice exporter, a title it lost to Thailand after the generals seized control of the country in 1962.

  4. Resources
    4

    Resources

    Resource extraction is likely to remain the biggest source of exports and will attract the lion’s share of investment inflow.  Myanmar has about 10 trillion cubic feet of proven gas reserves, or two percent of Asia-Pacific's total, according to BP data.

  5. Rubies
    5

    Rubies

    While the U.S. still bans the importation of jade and rubies from Myanmar due to human-rights abuses surrounding their extraction, revenue from gem exports has surged in recent years.

  6. Infrastructure
    6

    Infrastructure

    The country will need an investment of $80 billion in the power, transport and technology sectors through 2030 in order to modernize its economy, according to the Asian Development Bank.

  7. Roads & Transportation
    7

    Roads & Transportation

    The government is likely to prioritize the modernization of Myanmar’s crumbling transport infrastructure to help lower the cost of market access and accelerate integration into regional and global supply chains.

    Photographer: Taylor Weidman

  8. Foreign Investment & Consumption
    8

    Foreign Investment & Consumption

    Controlling a flood of foreign investment will be among the government’s most daunting tasks. The opportunity for investors is clear — after decades of stagnation the Asian Development Bank predicts Myanmar’s economy will expand by more than eight percent a year, making it the fastest-growing marketplace in Southeast Asia.

  9. Banking
    9

    Banking

    While the government recently opened the door to foreign banks to help modernize and deepen the industry, much is still to be done, including the introduction of a money-market system, establishing financial accounting standards and finalizing the industry’s legal framework.

  10. Manufacturing
    10

    Manufacturing

    With a minimum wage of just $3 a day, Myanmar hopes to lure textile and apparel producers back to the country, though growth will be capped by capacity constraints.

  11. Services
    11

    Services

    International companies including Carlsberg and Dutch rival Heineken have started brewing in Myanmar as rising local wages and a surge in tourism encourage growth in the country’s fledgling food and beverage industry.

  12. Aung San Suu Kyi
    12

    Aung San Suu Kyi

    For all the democratic change coming to Myanmar, there is much that will remain the same. The army retains broad powers under a constitution it wrote, giving it seats in parliament, effective veto power over charter changes and control of key ministries. It also bars Nobel Peace Prize winner Suu Kyi from the presidency, although she has made it clear that it won’t stop her from running things from behind the scenes.