Young Scholars Tackles SME Problems with Ayeyarwaddy Parliament

Okka Myo, Impact Hub, Presenting at Ayeywardwaddy Parliamentary Discussion
FNF Myanmar

"SMEs are important for the economic development of the region and we were happy to learn about SMEs related laws in Myanmar. The suggestions for Ayeyarwady Parliament in promoting SMEs in the region were useful and we were glad that FNF and Panna provided such opportunity to learn about it,” the deputy speaker of Ayeyarwaddy Regional Parliament spoke in his closing remark.

 “SMEs can be key drivers in Myanmar’s economic development,” Pe Aung Zin, CEO of Panna Institute, said on Wednesday before a parliamentary discussion started in Pathein, Ayeyarwaddy division. “Local SMEs have to be empowered through policies, which would support the businesses to overcome challenges innovatively as well as financially.” The parliamentary discussion in Pathein expects to tackle these policy barriers and to discuss potential grounds to develop local SMEs so that Myanmar businesses would be prepared when ASEAN free trade agreements come into action.

Myanmar is entering ASEAN Economic Community and free flow of goods, services and labor across 10 Southeast Asian states is set to pose daunting challenges for Myanmar’s private sector. People fear that tough competitions from foreign countries may wipe out local SMEs in Myanmar.

Amidst those fears, Myanmar’s policymakers drafted “safeguard law” to protect local SMEs from inundated foreign imports. According to the law, the local SMEs can report to the Ministry of Commerce if the foreign imports swallow their businesses and endanger local products. However, the drafted law only allows reporting the imports from developed countries. Nevertheless, this law has never been approved at the parliament.

 “Protection is not a sustainable solution for local SME development in Myanmar,” Aung Thu Hein, a programme manager of Friedrich Naumann Foundation said. “We need to empower local SMEs in their necessities and support them with innovative solutions to overcome challenges.”

 “SMEs always find it hard to strengthen their businesses due to financial difficulties,” said Pe Aung Zin. “That is why, we come up with Yamin as a speaker to talk about access to finance and banking as she is a founder and a CEC member of Microfinance Association.”

However, it is not just a financial barrier that restricts local SMEs to boom. Nway Nway Soe, a former programme manager of Friedrich Naumann Foundation, called for Ayeyarwaddy Parliament to encourage regional government to support SME policies. Last year, Friedrich Naumann Foundation, together with its MoU partner DISI Ministry of Industry, drew a regional MSME roadmap after consulting with local SME business owners for more effective measures.  This roadmap is recognized by both the regional and union government. Nway noted that the implementation process should follow consultation.

The parliamentary discussion not only combated challenges but also provided possible solutions to boom local SMEs. “Okka Myo was invited to show innovative solutions to boost local SMEs,” Pe Aung Zin said. Okka Myo, the co-founder of Impact Hub Myanmar, presented e-commerce and online communication applications to support local businesses in Ayeyarwaddy. He exemplified Alibaba case and highlighted the start of other international online channels to encourage local SMEs to start working on their digital platforms for better communication and increase sale to distant places.

Over 35 parliamentarians attended and were actively participated in the discussion. “I could learn many things related to financial aspect of SMEs development. In my township, there were a few groups, which provided micro finance support to the farmers and SMEs. Now that I know a bit more about the nature of micro finance and access to finance, I can explain about them to the people in the future,” one MP from Kyaik Latt constituency mentioned.

This parliamentary discussion was one of the series organized by a local group called Panna Institute and funded by a German NGO Friedrich Naumann Foundation. These parliamentary series aim to serve as a platform of dialogue between young scholars and parliamentarians in Myanmar to discuss current political and economic challenges posed for the parliamentarians and the development of the country. Both Panna Institute and Friedrich Naumann Foundation believe that the integration of ideas between young scholars and parliamentarians can be magical and serve the purpose of betterment of the country’s continuous development.