Canada has not had a presence in the country in decades until the Canadian Embassy opened in Yangon in 2013. Mark McDowell, Ambassador, explains the role that Canada hopes to play in today’s Myanmar.
European Times: Why did Canada decide to open an embassy in Myanmar?
Mark McDowell: The goal was to be part of Myanmar’s political and economic reform process and to support that process. Canada aims to assist grassroots organisations and defenders of human rights as well as to help improve living standards. Canada is supporting reform initiatives that will help to create a stable and inclusive democratic system, as well as strengthen accountability and transparency through better government management and dissemination of data.
European Times: What are some of the embassy’s current projects?
Mark McDowell: This year we launched Canada’s new development-aid programme for Myanmar, which has a budget of CA$44 million (€29.8 million). Some of the funding will be directed towards governance projects, an area in which Canada has much to offer. We are funding the Forum of Federations to organise study sessions and workshops to help locals understand what federalism is and what its benefits are. The development programme will also include projects to support entrepreneurship among women in rural areas.
European Times: What about Myanmar’s investment potential?
Mark McDowell: There are ample trade and investment opportunities here for foreign firms in the infrastructure, mining, and information and communications technology sectors. However, due in part to regulatory challenges, only a very small number of Canadian firms has done business in Myanmar. Manulife is the lone Canadian company with a presence on the ground. Life insurance is in fact an area where I see opportunities as the sector is practically non-existent here, despite a growing middle class.
One of the embassy’s first trade initiatives attracted Canadian SMEs in the ICT sector, and many made sales here. The oil and gas sector is another one to watch, along with the mining sector once tensions in mining areas are resolved. There is also a lot of potential in agro-processing, including in distribution, marketing and in cold-storage facilities. Tourism also has excellent growth prospects in Myanmar.
European Times: What are your predictions for Myanmar’s future?
Mark McDowell: I could see Yangon as the most liveable city in Southeast Asia in 20 years. Myanmar could transform itself from the country with the worst standard of living and human-rights record in the region into one of the most attractive and prosperous countries, given the right kind of investment, including in roads and electricity. Myanmar is unique due to its well preserved culture and rapidly developing business environment. My outlook for Myanmar is very positive.