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AFP-Myanmar opens ASEAN commerce me

Subject: AFP-Myanmar opens ASEAN commerce meeting

   Myanmar opens ASEAN commerce meeting

   YANGON, May 26 (AFP) - Myanmar urged fellow ASEAN members Wednesday to
join forces to meet the challenges of a global economy operating across
national boundaries.
   Myanmar Commerce Minister Major General Kyaw Than said at the start of
the 56th ASEAN Chambers of Commerce and Industry council meeting here that
global economy made close cooperation more vital than ever.
   "There is a need to further deepen our integration and cooperation not
to face the challenges of the borderless globalized economy only, but also
make best use of the business and investment opportunities arising out of it
in the next millenium," he said.
   The three-day meeting and associated business forum will focus on the
development of small and medium sized enterprises, the promotion of foreign
direct investment and electronic commerce.
   Brigadier General David Abel, economics minister in Myanmar's military
government, warned meanwhile that members of the Association of Southeast
Asian Nations must cooperate to extricate themselves from the economic mire.
   "There is a need to explore ways to strengthen our economic fundamentals
not only to accelarate the recovery process but also to meet the challenges
the next millenium," he said.
   Abel added that Asia's financial crisis, which erupted in 1997, had
Myanmar of desperately needed foreign investment.
   "ASEAN investors accounted for almost 60 percent of FDI (foreign direct
investment) prior to the crisis. Their investment fell by 70 percent in the
calender year 1998," he said.
   ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the
Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
   Abel said Myanmar was spared the "initial crisis shock" in 1997 by virtue
of its underdeveloped capital markets, tight foreign exchange controls and
non-convertible, non tradable local currency, the kyat.
   "However as the crisis deepened and turned into an economic turmoil,
Myanmar was impacted by the "contagion" effect," he said.
   Abel said Myanmar's gross domestic product growth rate fell from 6.4
percent in 1996 to 5.7 percent in 1997 to 5.6 percent in 1998.
   He attributed most of the decline not to the crisis but the El Nino

phenomenon which severely affected Myanmar's agriculture-dominated economy.
   The junta has set a 6.2 percent growth target for 1999, despite the
economic turmoil in the region.