Herman van Rompuy at first EuroCham Lecture in Mandalay

The European Chamber of Commerce in Myanmar (EuroCham) held its first EuroCham Lecture signature event in Mandalay and welcomed as VIP speaker His Excellency Count van Rompuy, President Emeritus of the European Council (2009-2014), former Prime Minister of Belgium (2008-2009) and President of the European Policy Centre for an exclusive reception in Mandalay. Despite this being his first visit to Myanmar, he already met with State Counsellor Aung San Su Kyi, former president Thein Sein and others in the past.

EuroCham Lecture VIP Reception, 21 October 2017

The EuroCham Lecture VIP Reception hosted by EuroCham Myanmar on 21 October was the first of its kind to be held in Mandalay. With the event EuroCham Myanmar wanted to create an occasion to invite high-level VIPs to share their economic and political vision for Europe and its future role in the fast-changing global landscape with regards to Asia.

The event was held in Mandalay to underline the fast economic development all over Myanmar – with Mandalay being the second-most promising investment destination for European businesses in Myanmar.

The speakers highlighted the opportunities for investment in Myanmar and the role of European investors as responsible partners for sustainable investment and development.

The reception also welcomed distinguished guests, including the EU Ambassador to Myanmar Kristian Schmidt, the Chief Minister of Mandalay Region Zaw Myint Maung and high-level government officials of various ministries, the Mandalay Regional Parliament, chairmen and Secretaries of departments within the Mandalay Region Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MRCCI), as well as diplomats of the European Union, representatives of European companies, civil society and media.

Speakers

The event was opened by EuroCham Chairman David Levrat. He elaborated on EuroCham’s role as the voice of European business in Myanmar and underlined the importance of the event as the starting point for further activities and investments in the coming years. EuroCham sees increased interest from European companies in Mandalay and considers opening a chapter in the city. The Chairman also stressed how peace and development in Myanmar can benefit from responsible business practices of European investors.

The first welcome speech was delivered by H.E. Dr. Zaw Myint Maung, Chief Minister of Mandalay. He introduced Mandalay Region as a prime destination for tourists and logistic hub for investors. Its strategic geographic location, natural resources and agricultural production would make Mandalay Myanmar’s second most promising economic hub. The Chief Minister elaborated on two master development plans – industrial planning and information technology – to further the economic development of the region. In that respect, he welcomed European companies to invest in compliance with regional investment laws and standards.

The Chief Minister was followed by the new Ambassador of the European Union to Myanmar, H.E. Mr. Kristian Schmidt. He introduced H.E. Herman van Rompuy by recognizing his leadership from 2009 to 2014 during Europe’s recovery after the financial crisis. Also, the EU Ambassador mentioned two pillars the EU is built upon – sound policies and human rights. Ambassador Schmidt pointed to the challenges Myanmar is facing with regards to human rights, the peace process and the crisis in Rakhine State, all constituting the biggest threats to Myanmar’s future.  “If the political challenges can be addressed, the economic opportunities between Myanmar and the European Union are great,” said the EU Ambassador. “The economies of Myanmar and the EU complement and supplement each other: Myanmar has what the EU needs, and the EU has what Myanmar needs.” He described Europe as both a partner to provide technology, know-how and machinery, and a friend providing support in times of distress and tension. While eluding to how trade between the EU and Myanmar increased significantly since the lifting of the sanctions in 2013, the Ambassador encouraged the Mandalay government to continue expanding beneficial partnerships with European investors to ensure sustainable economic development.

H.E. Count Herman van Rompuy, President Emeritus of the European Council opened his keynote address by elaborating on the three fundamental principles the European Union was built upon – peace, democracy and prosperity. After alluding to the hardships the European continent faced during the second world war, he acknowledged that lasting peace could only be built through reconciliation and creating economic interdependence in a pragmatic stepwise approach. His Excellency later continued by defining nationalism as the cause of war – which ultimately steered the European community for a union of nations, rather than a divided continent. What started as six countries and 250 million people, later promulgated into half a billion spanning across twenty-eight countries, all of which were respected culturally and linguistically – “no majority, no minorities, everyone is equal”.

From that experience Europeans would be looking with unease at the rise of populism, as a variant of nationalism. His Excellency stated it would take courage and positive language from leaders to counter this development.

As the former Prime Minister of Belgium carried on to his second principal by describing Myanmar as a young democracy, he assured that the once immature European democracies also started out with many challenges to face. However, in a concerted effort to anchor political democracy, and prevent the reappearance of dictatorships, a system of values was established – gender equality, fundamental freedoms, non-discrimination and tolerance of religions. The keynote speaker concluded by attributing the success of the European Union to its shared values.

In terms of prosperity, His Excellency deemed the improvement of living standards increased double-fold during the 1950’s as a result of the presence of a large, single market in Europe. He reasoned that an openness to financial activities and investment practices would lead to economic development in Myanmar and described them as key to the country’s future. Only through trade and globalization could economic development be achieved.

The speaker continued that today in the midst of a wave of protectionism, Europe would move forward with free trade – signing free trade agreements and letting countries like Myanmar benefit from and access the European market under the Everything-But-Arms Scheme (EBA).

His Excellency further elaborated on Europe taking more initiative in security, continuously improving social security and solidarity, and allowing controlled and needed immigration. Also, he described the European Union as the worldwide biggest provider of development and humanitarian aid, and as a global player through trade policy, climate protection and more.

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