Imported products from Thailand and Hong Kong can be seen on display in downtown shopping malls – something that would have been impossible two years ago as foreign goods were banned under the military junta.
Big international brands are now moving in to take advantage of the world’s last frontier markets: soft-drink giant Coca-Cola opened a factory in Burma in June 2013; VISA and MasterCard now operate inside the country; and Japanese companies Mitsubishi Corp and Sumitomo are expanding their presence in Rangoon.
Foreign investors are pouring money into local industries and infrastructure projects.
Twenty-two-year-old Lae Lin Tun Aye works in a medical lab and said things for her are improving.
“Our company is recruiting more staff and expanding into more markets. Our wages are higher than in the past. Older people tell me that my wage is good,” she said.
Zin Zaw Htet Tun opened a language school in Rangoon to cash in on people wanting to learn English, Chinese and other foreign languages. He said the city is changing dramatically.
“We can see new supermarkets and new cars, and also new bridges and new houses for the people in Yangon [Rangoon]. Many companies are investing in our country. So for the people, they have many good opportunities for their life. In the area of fashion and technology we can see many changes. We used to use dial-up phones and old cell phones, but now we can use modern cell phones with the latest technology,” he said.
While a growing number of people like Zin Zaw Htet Tun are experiencing higher incomes and improvements to their lives, there are still many who are yet to benefit.
Ten percent of Burma’s labour force work abroad, and the passport office in Rangoon is always full of people waiting to process documents so that they can get jobs outside the country.
Khin Sitt Pyu has been working in Dubai for three years and earns US$900 a month, which she sends back to her family in Rangoon.
“The basic salary overseas is ten times higher than here. This made me want to work abroad. At first my relatives didn’t allow me to go because I’m a woman. But my parents and my siblings agreed and supported my decision. Now I have a regular income and everything is fine with me,” she said.
Burma’s economy grew by 7.5 percent in the 2013 fiscal year, according to the Asian Development Bank. An increase in investment, improved business confidence, commodity exports, and a rise in tourism contributed to this growth.
Economic advisor to the government, Maung Aung, believes Burma’s economy will continue to grow over the coming years.
“Now our economy does not only depend on Asian markets, but also European markets. We expect to enter the US market soon. So now we are trading globally. We have lots of opportunity to grow in our economy,” he said.