The Nordic House in Yangon – A promising perspective

A Thursday evening in Yangon, Myanmar. 700-800 guests are gathered to learn or explain about Scandinavia, the natural focal point when the Nordic House, hosting the Danish and Norwegian embassies and the Finnish and Swedish consuls, opened the doors for visitors to mark their move to new premises on the 3th of March 2016.

A suitable occasion to focus on the interesting Nordic unity in Myanmar and get an update on the current Nordic engagement in the country. Let’s start from the beginning.

The Nordic House in Yangon opened in 2012, as “kind of a coincidence” Peter Lysholt Hansen, Danish Ambassador in Yangon, explains. It was foremost a practical arrangement, when the Nordic countries started diplomatic missions in Myanmar under the same roof in 2012. Soon they recognized that the setup was interesting and now it has developed into an innovative pilot project, that might be an inspiration for Nordic cooperation globally.

“I can’t think of any Nordic collaborations that are so advanced. It’s like one joint embassy”, Peter Lysholt Hansen explains as he prompt lists the benefits of this: “Naturally it’s easier to cooperate, which means cooperation between Nordic offices is without doubt more frequent than it would have been”. This is among other things reflected in many joint engagements in between the offices and of course this joint-hosted open house event in Yangon.

Swedish Minister Counsellor, Johan Hallenborg, shares this view: “Of course it’s easier to understand one another when you’re sharing an office and you sit together and talk on a daily basis. Everyone benefits from this when we share information and orientate one another”, he says.

“In the end it strengthens our joint Nordic profile in the country. We have a stronger voice in the country and we can offer a wide range of networking, which makes the house really attractive”, Peter Lysholt Hansen explains.

The project is still on a pilot basis and it hasn’t been evaluated yet, but attitudes towards sharing common office space seems unilateral positive.

“The pilot project is running smoothly, and we clearly see how our four countries and cultures jointly strengthen the Nordic presence in Myanmar”, Hege Jørstad, Counsellor at The Norwegian Embassy in Yangon, tells.

“There should be some rationalization benefits, that’s the general idea, and I’m positive there will be”, the Danish Ambassador assess. Economic benefits are already reflected in shared rental and running costs for the Nordic house and salary costs for shared staff, according to Hege Jørstad.

The house is administrated by two Norwegian diplomats with assistance from a handful of local Burmese. As Norway is the lead country, Norwegian legislation is the basis for local contacts and other administrative aspects of running a foreign mission.

In December 2015 an agreement between the four countries was signed, that lies out the guidelines for the administrative set up and cost sharing at the Nordic House. All offices uses the same personal and same accounting and financing processes. Administration costs a shared as is the telephone number to reach the reception.

Different diplomatic missions

When working so closely as the Danish Ambassador described “like a joint embassy” there could be a risk that national lines are getting blurred and diplomatic missions could get mixed, one might think. But that doesn’t concern the representatives from the house. There are joint engagements and focuses are in the same areas, but the country’s strategies and priorities differs, when you have a closer look.

The Swedish Office for example has a very clear main focus on development in Myanmar, which is also reflected on the staff, consisting of five people and four of them are working with development.

“We work with three government decided guidelines in the development cooperation”, David Holmertz, Swedish Minister Counsellor on Development Cooperation, says: “We want to increase the human rights and the freedom of speech in Myanmar, we want to achieve broad local participation in the peace process and we want to stabilize children’s health”.

The Danish Embassy on the other hand has an almost equal focus on development as peace processes, rule of law and human rights, economical growth and educational support with a decimal overweight on economical growth. Peter Lysholt Hansen mentions a co-management on fishing resources in 10 Myanmar villages as one of the big Danish supported programmes to come.

Norway’s focus areas are “the peace process, long term development assistance related to sustainable development, climate change and environment, clean energy and fisheries. Support to democratisation, civil society and human rights have been, and continue to be at the core of Norway’s collaboration with Myanmar”, Hege Jørstad reports.

Setting up business in Myanmar

It’s no secret that Myanmar is a challenged nation, but ending five decades of military junta in 2011, processing a more or less democratic vote 8. November 2015 and continuing economical growth have made Myanmar a prosperous nation for business.

Several Nordic companies such as Maersk, Carlsberg, AGM, Ericsson and Arla are already present in Myanmar and there should be more in the future. Many Nordic companies are showing interest in Myanmar according to the Danish and Swedish offices.

“Grundfoss and Vestas have already probed Myanmar for potential business and there’s also a big  interest from the textile industry”, Peter Lysholt Hansen says and adds that he’s positive investment interests will grow in the future.

Johan Hallenborg also reports of many Swedish companies showing interest in Myanmar. In January he went to a joint seminary in Singapore to promote business in Myanmar. “There are around 250 Swedish companies in Singapore and they all have a regional outlook”, Johan Hallenborg tells.

“It’s a promising market. There are many great needs in the country, which means there are many interesting prospects for business”, he explains.

Both officials finds the interest positive, but at the same time they encourage potential investors to maintain composure.

“Myanmar is not an easy market to enter. You have to keep in mind that five years ago the country was completely inaccessible. So to enter business here you’ll have to be patient, it takes a lot of time and effort”, Peter Lysholt Hansen says.

Johan Hallenborg adds to this: “It shall be a very conscious decision for companies to set up business in Myanmar. Challenges are easy to see. Infrastructure is not good, also concerning energy and internet. Corruption is still a serious matter”, he tells.

Myanmar is ranked 156th out of 175 nations according to Transparency International’s 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index. At the World Bank’s Logistic Performance Index from 2014 Myanmar is ranked 145th out of 160 nations.

Johan Hallenborg is confident that the coming reform processes in the end will help Myanmar overcome many challenges. But currently his cautious: “We can open a few doors for companies, but it’s still limited how much help we can provide”, he says.

The Danish Ambassadors tone in this matter is slightly different: “It’s a important task for us to assist companies with interest in Myanmar. We advise companies, identify potential partners for them and provide market information as well as help them through the bureaucracy”, Peter Lysholt Hansen says answering how the Embassy can help interested companies.

Myanmar is part of the ASEAN Economic Community, which emphasizes regional cooperation. The economy has grown 6 to 7 percent in recent years and the growth is expected to continue.


Source: Scand Asia

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