The Irrawaddy | YANGON—This week, Myanmar said it was considering relaxing many COVID-19 restrictions, including stay-at-home orders, travel bans and domestic flight suspensions, to ease the impact of the pandemic on the country’s economy. The government also approved about US$17 million (22.76 billion kyats) in loans for nearly 700 enterprises impacted by COVID-19.
Meanwhile, Myanmar was urged by China to boost practical cooperation on implementing local projects under Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) after joining the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) on Sunday.
Meanwhile, the Central Bank of Myanmar said it had upgraded its interbank payment network with technical support from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
Myanmar joins RCEP
On Sunday, Myanmar joined the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which was signed by China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and the 10 members of ASEAN.
The accord aims to liberalize trade and investment across the Asia-Pacific region by removing and reducing tariffs, especially on industrial and agricultural products.
The member countries also agreed to set out new rules on government procurement, competition policy, e-commerce, trade, data transmission and intellectual property.
The RCEP countries account for 30 percent of the global population and the deal is expected to cover 2.2 billion consumers.
Myanmar State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who witnessed the virtual signing ceremony for the RCEP, said Myanmar would do its utmost to realize the full implementation of the deal’s provisions.
China again pushes BRI projects
Chinese President Xi Jinping this week urged Myanmar State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to boost practical cooperation on his ambitious grand infrastructure scheme, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), in the country while congratulating her National League for Democracy on its landslide victory in the Nov. 8 election.
The BRI, also known as the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road, is Xi’s signature foreign policy project. It also aims to build a network of roads, railroads and shipping lanes linking at least 70 countries from China to Europe passing through Central Asia, the Middle East and Russia, boosting trade and investment.
Myanmar occupies a unique geographical position in the BRI, lying at the junction of South and Southeast Asia, and between the Indian Ocean and southwestern China’s Yunnan Province.
Myanmar has been an official BRI partner since September 2018 and the estimated 1,700-km China-Myanmar Economic Corridor is due to connect Kunming, the capital of Yunnan, to Mandalay, Yangon and the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone in Rakhine State.
Xi said in his congratulatory statement that he would make joint efforts with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in pushing various fields under the BRI.
Central Bank updates network
This week, the Central Bank of Myanmar (CBM) said it had upgraded its payment and settlement system to facilitate transactions between financial institutions around the country at any time, including utility bill payments and large payroll transactions.
With technical support from the Japan International Cooperation Agency, the CBM upgraded its original network, CBM-NET, replacing it with a new payment system, CBM-NET 2.
The technologies of CBM-NET 2 are based on Japan’s national payment system, and more features will be added during the first half of next year, JICA said.
CMB-NET 2 allows 24/7 transfer of domestic kyat remittances between banks, bulk payment including payroll transfers, and automatic withdrawals to pay taxes and utilities bills.
JICA said the electronic “cashless” payments will help tackle the challenges posed by COVID-19.
Loans for 698 enterprises
On Wednesday, Myanmar’s working committee on the economic impact of COVID-19 announced the approval of 22.76 billion kyats in loans for 698 enterprises that have suffered finical losses due to the pandemic.
The committee also warned that companies that are the subject of legal action by banks for defaulting on loans are not eligible for COVID-19-related assistance.