Burma steps towards re-engagement with global economic system | Asia Pacific

Burma steps towards re-engagement with global economic system

Burma steps towards re-engagement with global economic system

Updated 28 January 2013, 21:43 AEST

Burma has taken another significant step toward its re-engagement with the global political and economic system.

Its leadership has announced international lenders have agreed to cancel six billion dollars of its outstanding debts.

The remaining so-called Paris Club will write off half what its owed with the remainder to be rescheduled over 15 years.

The major development agencies, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank have also agreed to resume dealings with the country, after Japan offered a bridging loan.

Correspondent: Karon Snowdon

Speaker: Kelly Bird, principal economist and Burma project officer, Asian Development Bank

SNOWDON: Its been an international effort and involves big money.

Burma owes billions of dollars to its long list of donors and has been on black list for decades.

For the Asian Development Bank this marks the resumption of aid after a thirty year absence.

Kelly Bird is the Principle Economist and Burma Project Officer with the Bank.

He says Burma is more than 500 million dollars in arrears to the Bank and this has not been cancelled but rescheduled.

BIRD: What that allows us to do, is to resume our development operations with Myanmar. It'll be a phased-in approach. Over the next twelve months, or twenty-four months. That's really to help us to understand the country better and their development needs, but also to provide policy advice to the authorities in those particular sectors.

SNOWDON: Burma still owes the Bank 511 million dollars but it now has 24 years with a grace period of eight, to repay it.

On the same day as this news, the Burmese government announced Norway had cancelled over 530 million dollars owed to it, while Japan is cancelling more than $3 billion.

The World Bank has also rescheduled its hundreds of millions of dollars in loans, saying the government has undertaken unprecedented reforms.

The ADB's Kelly Bird says the Bank will work with the Burmese authorities to create inclusive economic growth for all the people.

BIRD: That'll be a major effort of all the development partners.

SNOWDON: It seems like a good system, most people would say, because it puts the responsibility back on to the administration in Myanmar, who took the money in the first place?

BIRD: For us to resume our engagement with the authorities, we're able to provide development assistance. At the same time, as part of that engagement, we're clearly going to be working with them, to improve their public financial management systems and transparency.

SNOWDON: The economic reforms by the government since 2011 in the area of investment law, more central bank autonomy and the government's willingness to engage with the donors allowing the lifting of sanctions have set the scene for what comes next. But there's a long way to go to cement the confidence of the international community

BIRD: There's alot that needs to be done in the short to medium term. Over the longer term, if the reforms stay on track, that will build confidence and so we do see a very positive promising prospects for Myanmar over the next five to ten years.

SNOWDON: And how confident is the ADB that with this re-engagement by the development community as a whole, that the people of Burma will see real benefits fairly soon?

BIRD: You know, our priority is to see economic growth, that it does touch the lives of millions of Myanmar people. We don't have a crystal ball, so we can't predict the future. There'll be many challenges on the way, that are risky to reforms and growth. For the ADB, what we'd like to do with the government, is to ensure that the foundations of their foregrowth, and that's where we'd like to focus on - agriculture, education, infrastructure and the trade and investment environment.

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