Myanmar Risks Getting Old Before Becoming Rich, OECD Report Says

Myanmar may start aging earlier than its neighbors, increasing the urgency for its leaders to implement policies that optimize economic growth, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

The Southeast Asian nation with an estimated 59 million people has a population structure like China’s in the 2000s, signaling it’s approaching the point where the share of working-age citizens starts declining, an OECD report showed. By contrast, Cambodia and Laos will probably see their proportion of workers continue to rise, it said.

“Myanmar’s now comparatively young population will start aging in the next two decades,” the OECD said in a report released today. “If the momentum for development created by the country’s opening and internal peace process is not seized, Myanmar could get old before it gets rich.”

Myanmar President Thein Sein is seeking to create more jobs in one of Asia’s poorest countries after allowing greater political and economic freedom following decades of military rule. An untapped market and labor costs that the Japan External Trade Organization says are the cheapest in the region have attracted companies such as Coca-Cola Co. and Visa Inc.

The OECD predicts that without structural change the economy can grow at an average of 6.3 percent from 2013 to 2017, below the government’s target of 7.7 percent growth from now till 2015. The nation must invest in its manufacturing and services sectors to create jobs and raise incomes, it said.

Myanmar also has to focus on attracting foreign investment, developing special economic zones, optimizing the contribution of public enterprises to growth, and helping small enterprises to develop, the report said. The country’s gross national income per capita is 13 percent lower than Cambodia and 24 percent below Laos, it said.

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