Thai SMEs encouraged to invest in Mandalay

Thailand’s small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are being urged to invest in Myanmar, especially in Mandalay, a region with abundant natural resources, strong agricultural production and growing demand for Thai goods.

Speaking at a seminar in Mandalay sponsored by Bangkok Post Plc and Asset Pro Management Co, Nuttaphong Visitkitchakarn, who sits on the executive committee of the Thai Business Association of Myanmar, said there are plenty of opportunities for Thai SMEs in many industries.

“Mandalay is considered a good start not only for the giant Thai investors, but also for the Thai SMEs considering overseas investments,” Mr Nuttaphong said.

Mandalay, Myanmar’s second-largest city after Yangon, is ready for Thai investments, he said, especially in the agriculture and trading businesses as the city is full of natural resources but still lacks appropriate modern technology and creativity to add value to its agricultural products.

Agricultural products generate about 70% of Mandalay’s total income. Mr Nuttaphong said Mandalay also offers decent opportunities for infrastructure investment in the telecom sector.

He said Mandalay’s mobile industry has undergone major reforms and the government has issued licences to Telenor and Ooredoo. Mobile penetration doubled to 20% of the total population between 2011-14, while SIM card prices fell from US$200 to only copy $1.50 now. In 2015, there were 18.1 million active mobile users in Mandalay.

Mandalay region is home to 7.32 million people. It is also an important port city, distributing goods nationwide and connecting Myanmar to neighbouring countries like Thailand, China and India, and the Middle East.

The city is a part of Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) economic corridor, a route proposed under China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and Mandalay is set to benefit from infrastructure improvement and industrial zones development along the BCIM economic corridor. These factors make Mandalay stand out as one of the most important economic zones in Myanmar.

“As Myanmar gradually recovers its economic power, Mandalay is expected to become the second economic hub in the central and northern parts of the country, creating lots of opportunities for trading, small-scale manufacturing and logistics,” Mr Nuttaphong said.

“Mandalay needs a major upgrade for its poor infrastructure, while the country’s government is taking measures to tackle the problem by luring private companies into participation and helping create opportunities for related businesses.”

According to Mr Nuttaphong, Mandalay also offers great opportunities for Thai investors in hotel and tourism businesses as the city now only has two five-star hotels while the international arrivals from China, Thailand, Europe and Middle East countries are increasing every year.

“On the tourism side, Mandalay is best known for its culture and the total increase of international arrivals to Myanmar will benefit Mandalay a lot because Mandalay is listed as one of the country’s four most popular destinations,” he said.

Mandalay’s attraction draws a great many foreigners and there is a big potential for foreign investors in tourism and hotel businesses as the region is house to famous sites like the Mandalay Palace, Mahamuni Buddha Pagoda, U Bein Teakwood Bridge in Amarapura.

It is also the leading venue for gold leaves manufacturing and jade and gems factories. International tourist arrivals in Myanmar during the first two months of 2017 have increased by 22% over the same period last year, according to the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism.

As of February 2017, 600,000 international travellers have been recorded, according to the ministry. In 2016, the total number of foreign visitors was 385,031, a 25% increase from over the same period in the previous year. The largest number of arrivals are from China, followed by France, Thailand and Germany.

Aung Than, president of the Mandalay Region Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said with Mandalay being centrally located and connecting Thailand, China and India, it can offer some great opportunities to both Thai and foreign investors.

He added that Mandalay’s Myotha Industrial Park is now ready to support and facilitate such investments, offering 50-year lease contracts with many other privileges. Aung Than said the Chinese are the largest foreign investors, with Thais in the third place.

According to a local source, who owns one of the city’s second largest supermarket stores, fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) from Thailand also offer a great opportunity, as Mandalay residents mostly consider Thai products to be of premium quality.

Mr Nuttaphong said some Thai restaurants are needed in Mandalay, citing that there are only two or three quality Thai authentic restaurants in the city, which has room for more Thai SMEs in restaurant business.

“Mandalay people love Thai foods and I believe the city is a great place to invest in Thai restaurants,” said Mr Nuttaphong.

Kich Aungvitulsatit, managing director of Excellent United International Co, said that building confidence between Thailand and Myanmar is the first priority before any investments could take place.

He said the Thais should perceive Myanmar as one of their strategic partners in developing the two countries together as both are in the same Asean bloc, adding that it will strengthen the region’s potential…

According to the Bank of Thailand data, Thai direct investment in Myanmar totalled US$3.86 billion in 2016, up from $3.35 billion in 2015.

Source: Bangkok Post