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Earlier this month, the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI), Burma’s leading industry body, elected a new leader. DVB recently spoke with Zaw Min Win, the new chairman, to learn more about the federation’s plans for the future.
Question: First of all, let me congratulate you on being elected as the UMFCCI’s new chairman.
Answer: Thank you. The election was a success because our members all came together to choose suitable people. We should especially thank the members of our election commission.With good will, they held the election systematically and objectively, so it was successful and there were very few complaints.
Q: How many eligible voters were there in this election, and how many actually cast a ballot?
A: There were 1,246 eligible voters, of whom 1,134 people came to vote.
Q: You were previously the vice-chairman of the federation. Like you, other former executive members were also elected to serve again. So roughly how many of the recently elected executive members are new faces?
A: That’s right — I served as the vice-chairman for quite a long time. There were also some other old members who were elected, but I think there were quite a few new faces, too. I think it will be a good team, as there are many young members.
Q: So, what are your plans for the coming term?
A: Before I was elected, I thought about what I would like to do if the members supported me and gave me the chairman position. Firstly, I would like to amend our organisation’s rules and regulations to conform with the standards of international CCIs [chambers of commerce and industry]. I would like to get a CCI Law with the help of legal experts familiar with the situation of our country. Then, I will call an AGM [annual general meeting] to let all of our members know about this.
Secondly, since we are working as a link between the state sector and the private sector, I would like to work to get acknowledgement [of this role] from the state. We will provide advice based on our own research and position papers. We also have a plan to give advice, after discussions, to the state about how to improve the role of the private sector in the economy.
Q: Do you think the government will be willing to give the federation more recognition?
A: That depends mostly on the ability of the newly elected representatives. If the state gives us more advice, and the UMFCCI, as the leading [business] federation, provides good advice on the private sector and the economy, we will win recognition. We need to work together effectively.
Another thing is we need to form an employers’ organisation, consisting only of business owners, and work to set up SME associations around the country to promote the role of small and medium enterprises.
Q: You said you will advise the government by providing research papers. Does the UMFCCI currently have any ideas to suggest to the government?
A: Actually, we are always giving suggestions. But now, we will back them up with more accurate data based on the government’s 12 economic principles. We will give suggestions within the next two or three months.
Q: You just mentioned the idea of forming an employers’ association. Couldn’t we call the UMFCCI an employers’ organisation, or do we need to form a new organisation?
A: Actually, there already is an employers’ organisation. But when we discussed it, we found that it had some weaknesses. Meanwhile, on the other side, there are labor unions. So we also need an employers’ association to negotiate among the employers. That’s why I have a plan to form one separately.
Q: In other countries, there are employers’ associations and employees’ associations — labour unions. Together with government representatives, they take part in three-way talks when they go to the ILO. Has the UMFCCI ever been involved in talks with the ILO?
A: Yes, we have. I have attended ILO conferences as a representative of employers. Actually, there must be a tripartite approach. In the past, there was no specific employers’ association, so they recognised and invited the UMFCCI to act as one. Until a proper employers’ association is formed, we will continue to play that role.
Q: Burma has a history of strikes and boycotts and disputes between employees and employers. Do you think the UMFCCI will be involved in such issues in the future?
A: Yes, we are working on these issues. Many of our employers have been involved in dispute-resolution committees. Mainly, we will negotiate with employers about the demands of the workers, about what demands they are able to meet; and also, we will speak to the workers, to get the best possible results for employers.
Q: Many people are hopeful about the new National League for Democracy government, but there have also been some problems, especially with its handling of the economy. For example, construction projects have stalled and other industries, such as tourism, have also been weak. What do you think can be done to overcome these problems.
A: That’s right. The government itself has admitted to some of these problems. The economy has slowed down and it’s difficult to move things forward. If we look at the situation carefully, we can see that this is mainly because of uncertainty due to the change of government. Businesses are waiting to see what the new policies will be, and this is slowing things down. My other concern is our lack of infrastructure, which drives up costs. And we also suffer from illicit border trade, which affects our competitiveness. When factories shut down, we also have to worry about the welfare of our unemployed workers. All of these things are a drag on our economy.
Q: Aung San Suu Kyi went to England and the United States recently. In many countries, when leaders go abroad, they are accompanied by business people. Do you think that members of the UMFCCI will be able to join Aung San Suu Kyi when she travels abroad again in the future?
A: I heard that on her trip, she met with members of the US Chamber of Commerce. I think that in the future, when the UMFCCI gets more recognition, leaders will bring us on their foreign trips to help facilitate cooperation with business people from other countries for our mutual benefit.