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Overseas Business Risk: Myanmar

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Overseas Business Risk: Myanmar

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Information on key security and political risks which UK businesses may face when operating in Myanmar.


On 1 February 2021, Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing, the Head of Myanmar’s Armed Forces (the Tatmadaw), staged a coup d’état and overthrew the democratically elected civilian government led by the National League for Democracy (NLD). State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint have been detained alongside a wide range of political prisoners. The opposition National Unity Government (NUG) has been formed by members of the former parliament.

A series of protests followed the coup alongside a Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) focused on restricting the Junta’s control of vital services, particularly through peaceful strikes and a domestic boycott of military linked companies. This, alongside decisions made by the Junta, has impacted the public and private sector bringing severe disruption to basic services such as banking, health and transportation.

Political tension and unrest are widespread since the coup and general levels of violence have risen. Protests have become increasingly sporadic in order to avoid security forces. There has been an increased use of small explosive and arson attacks against targets such as buildings controlled by the Myanmar Security Forces.

Increasingly organised violence is being seen across Myanmar, including in ethnic minority states in the east of the country and along the border with Thailand. The general situation remains volatile and unpredictable. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners produces daily reports on the situation and statistics on the numbers killed, arrested and detained.

On 24 April, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) issued a five-point consensus calling for an immediate cessation to violence, access to humanitarian aid and for mediated dialogue between all parties concerned.

Myanmar remains beset by multiple conflicts in ethnic areas which has resulted in a significant and protracted humanitarian situation in the border regions. The Myanmar Security Forces are responsible for serious human rights violations across the country and a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya in Rakhine State. The UN Independent Fact Finding Mission has produced a number of reports which document the actions of the Myanmar Security Forces.

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) advises against all but essential travel to Myanmar, based on recent political events and the current assessment of the COVID-19 risk. More information on political risk, including political demonstrations, is available in FCDO Travel Advice.


In 2019 Myanmar was the 71st largest economy in the world (World Bank, 2019) but it remains the poorest country in South East Asia with 1 in 4 people living in poverty. However, since 2011, economic reform has lifted 11.8 million people out of poverty and raised living standards. Between 2010 and 2017 mobile phone ownership increased from 4.8% to 81.5% and households using electricity for lighting increased from 23% to 69%. Average growth rates 2011 – 2019 were 6.5% with GDP standing at $76 billion in 2019 (World Bank).

Pre-coup, COVID-19 had already started to hit the economy hard. Growth fell from 6.8% in 2018 to just 1.7% in 2019 as the garment, tourism and retail sectors experienced significant slowdowns with implications for the poorest in society. The NLD Government launched an economic response to inject fiscal stimulus and fast-track structural reforms building upon the 140 significant economic reforms and 500 supporting regulatory reforms implemented since 2011.

The significant deterioration in the political situation alongside COVID-19 is increasingly expected to lead to an economic collapse. The World Bank have indicated that initial projections of a 10% contraction in the 2020-21 fiscal year are optimistic with independent analysts projecting up to a 20% contraction.

Virtually all sectors of the private sector, public services and Civil Service are severely stressed or stalled as the CDM continues and the economy declines. Access to banking services is severely restricted with individuals having withdrawals capped. Logistics have ground to a halt with ports facing significant bottlenecks and significant staff shortages in road and rail transportation due to ongoing strikes.

Manufacturers are seeing severe contractions in orders alongside increasing costs due to transport costs, material shortages and the continued depreciation of the kyat which is subsequently increasing the price of fuel and food. The economic shock is likely to have a significant effect on the country’s poorest and most vulnerable with the World Food Programme estimating that lost jobs and remittances are likely to make 1.5 million people food insecure in 3 months, increasing to 3.4 million in 6 months.

Key figures at a glance

  • population: 54m (2019)
  • GDP: USD 76bn, 71st largest economy (World Bank, 2019)
  • GDP per capita: USD 1390 (World Bank, 2019)
  • ease of doing business index ranking: 165/190 (World Bank, 2019)

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