By Khine Kyaw
Yangon - A coalition of 571 civil society organisations in Myanmar last week sent a letter to the European Union trade commissioner, expressing concerns over the lack of their views in the EU-Myanmar investment protection agreement.
The coalition spans 518 bodies from the Myanmar Alliance on Transparency and Accountability to 53 CSOs from another network, Lands in Our Hand.
It urged the EU to promote transparency in making an effort to sign the agreement with the Myanmar government by inviting the CSOs’ input.
The petition followed the EU’s posting of a questionnaire on January 5 seeking comments from civil society by January 30. It also plans to hold a stakeholder workshop later this month. The CSOs believe that was not enough.
“The questionnaire was in English only. It should be available in Myanmar or other major ethnic languages.
“Otherwise, most of the CSOs cannot respond to the questionnaire due to the language barrier,” said Seng Raw, a spokeswoman for the coalition.
“If the EU is genuinely interested in our views, they should give us full insight into the text, which has been proposed for negotiations. And they should let us know how many steps they have taken so far,” she said.
The IPA should not be signed soon, as the country is still at the very early stage of democratisation and peace-building.
“Many laws and policies still need to be revised. A IPA would severely endanger our prospects for democracy and sustainable peace,” she said.
The letter listed some of the concerns, such as performance requirements for foreign investors, potential impacts of the IPA on the peace process, investor protection and investor-state dispute settlement, and urgent need to improve Myanmar’s judicial system.
“We learned that the Myanmar government wants to include exhaustion of local remedies first, before going to international arbitration, but the EU is not agreeable.
“Forcing investors to go to national courts first would have forced the Myanmar government to improve its national judicial system. The EU now opts for a system that puts European investors in a privileged position,” it said.
Aung Naing Oo, secretary of the Myanmar Investment Commission, said the IPA would boost investment from Western countries, chiefly from Europe.
After the EU reinstated trade preferences for Myanmar in July 2013, negotiations for an investment protection agreement were initiated that would offer EU investors key guarantees, such as those to companies that their projects would be treated fairly and on an equal footing with other investors.
Creating legal certainty and predictability for companies will help attract and maintain foreign direct investment (FDI) to underpin Myanmar’s development.
With low investment in manufacturing and services, the oil and gas industry has been the biggest beneficiary of FDI. In the fiscal year ending in April, it attracted over US$2 billion from March-December, according to the Directorate of Investment and Company Administration.
That is half of the $4.1 billion net inflows in the period and one-third of the $6 billion target for the entire fiscal year.
Trailing behind were the transportation and communications industry with $736 million and manufacturing with $685 million.
FDI has surged over the past years. From the $1 billion target, the country actually attracted $3.4 billion in the 2012-13 fiscal year. In the 2013-14 fiscal year, actual value was $4.1 billion on top of the $3 billion target. In the 2014-15 fiscal year, actual value was $8 billion.