Securing the Future for Private Enterprises
The Republic of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (RUMFCCI) traces its origins back to 1919 as the Burmese Chamber of Commerce. The Federation today is the largest non-profit, non-governmental organization representing the private sector in Myanmar, with 38 trade associations, 16 regional chambers of commerce, and 9 border trade associations. As part of its commitment to promote trade and commerce, RUMFCCI provides trade information, consultancy services, trainings, assists in bringing in foreign investment and drafting legislation, and organizes trade fairs and networking events.
During a conversation, U Win Aung – current President of RUMFCCI – explained the history of the Federation and the struggles endured in developing it to what it is today.
The Burmese Chamber of Commerce of 1919, located in Mogul street, became the Union of Burma Chamber of Commerce S& Industry (UBCCI) when Myanmar gained independence in 1948, moving its offices to the Municipal Corporation building. In the fervor of post-independence nation building, the Federation played a leading role in trade, industry, and banking. Then in 1953, it renovated its property in Bo Sun Pet street (then Sit-ke Maung Tawlei Street) and relocated again. However, UBCCI ceased to function when the Burma Socialist Programme Party came to power in July 1962 and adopted a centralized economy. For over twenty years of socialist rule, the patrons of UBCCI managed to find ways to keep the Chamber alive, and in 1989, when the State Peace and Development Council took control of government UBCCI was reformed officially as a non-governmental organization in January 1989, under Section 26 of the Myanmar Companies Act (1914), its name changed to the Union of Myanmar Chamber of Commerce and Industry (UMCCI).
In May 1998, UMCCI relocated for the fourth time in its history to an office provided by the Ministry of Commerce at 504/506 Merchant Street. The building was caught in a fire in 2006 and offices were once again moved; this time only temporarily to Bar Street, downtown, as the current headquarters in Min Ye Kyaw Swa Street was still under construction. In fact, the construction of the premises in Min Ye Kyaw Swa Street took years due to funding difficulties. At time, the construction progressed almost literally brick by brick. Construction was finally completed and offices were relocated for the last time to the current address. And in April 2009, the Ministry of Commerce restructured and upgraded UMCCI to the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI) with a 20-member Central Executive Committee to oversee operations, each serving a term of two years. Finally, in 2013, UMFCCI became the Republic of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (RUMFCCI) with a newly organized voting system for electing members of the Central Executive Committee and Executive Committee from within its ranks.
Today, ninety-three years from its date of founding, RUMFCCI represents 19,944 Myanmar companies, 1,752 enterprises, 8,769 foreign companies, 242 co-operatives, and 3,361 individual entrepreneurs. The Federation Focuses its work on three areas: providing a private sector perspective in drafting legislation and formulating regulation; building capacity for local entrepreneurs; and facilitating domestic and international networking for local businesses.
In providing legislative input, RUMFCCI appears to be acutely aware of the need for a balanced approach of adhering to international norms but also taking into consideration the domestic realities. While local businesses must certainly be given opportunities to develop, blind protectionism must be avoided. This policy was put into practice when the Federation assisted in drafting the Foreign Investment Law 2012, which inarguably resulted in an exponential increase in inflowing FDI for the country. Another legislative achievement for RUMFCCI is the SME Development Law – yet to be passed by the Parliament. The drafting of the law was led by RUMFCCI’s National SME Development Working Committee (one of twelve working committees) in consultation with international organizations such as German trade promotion agency GIZ and UNESCAP.
However, establishing a sound legislative framework is only the first step in helping businesses thrive. With over 97 percent of Myanmar businesses being SMEs, capacity-building becomes another crucial task for the Federation. Access to capital, technical knowhow, and market are required for SME success. To that end, RUMFCCI engages heavily in conducting trainings on a wide spectrum of subjects including business development, management, finance, accounting, trade, language, skills, and ICT. More than 200 such trainings yielding over 9,670 trainees were conducted in collaboration with international organizations. Indeed, the Federation has even set up an MBA program in partnership with the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce. As part of its goal to faster networking for local businesses, RUMFCCI organizes business-matching activities both at home and abroad by sending willing and capable Myanmar entrepreneurs to foreign countries. Between 2011 and the first quarter of 2013, over 800 members were sent abroad for networking and exchange activities and over 8,000 personnel from international organizations and trade agencies were hosted by the Federation. More than 30 MoUs have been signed with international chambers and trade associations, the most significant being with the US Chamber of Commerce in early 2013.
RUMFCCI President U Win Aung, himself a successful businessman, acknowledged that tremendous tasks lie ahead for the Federation, especially in helping domestic businesses come up to speed with international business standards and practices. For instance, RUMFCCI has signed the UN Global Compact and is actively promoting corporate social responsibilities as part of its long-term strategy. An MOU has also been signed with the World Intellectual Property Organization as a first step towards implementing a regulatory framework on intellectual property rights.
Each day, scores of investors and entrepreneurs both local and foreign, continue to consult RUMFCCI on matters related to business and investment in Myanmar. The Federation shares the same sentiment as the rest of the country on foreign investment – that it must improve the living standards of citizens without entrapping Myanmar workers in the bottom of rung of unskilled labor. This means more vocational training and capacity building in every strata of business from unskilled labor to senior management. RUMFCCI has other ambitious plans including the construction of large-capacity exhibitions centers for trade fairs, business matching events, and conferences; establishing a university for trade and commerce; and building the capacity to one day conduct arbitration as an internationally recognized arbitration house. Such ambitious plans will most certainly take time. But considering how far both the country and the Federation has come – in RUMFCCI’s case literally building one brick at a time – the plans yet come to fruition in due time.