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Myanmar Sets Growth Goal


Myanmar President Thein Sein has set an especially audacious goal for his under-developed nation: to triple the size of its economy in five years.

The former general made the statement in a nationally televised speech this week in which he called for a fresh wave of economic reforms in the rapidly changing country, also known as Burma. Among other steps, he called for a reduction in the military's role in the economy, privatization of key industries and changes to Myanmar's foreign investment law, all of which should help spur more growth.

"Our aspired goal is a triple increase in per capita GDP," he said, according to an English language transcript of the speech published in the state New Light of Myanmar newspaper. Tripling per capita GDP would be the same as tripling overall GDP, barring a major change in the size of the population.

In order to accomplish this feat the economy would have to grow at 25% per year. That is not going to happen, especially considering only about 13% of the country has access to reliable electricity supply.

Forget the abusive generals and the freedom fighters. Myanmar's new power struggle pits the frustrated masses against their nation's lousy electrical grid. Myanmar's government is attempting a light-speed transition from paranoid dictatorship to free-market democracy.

But as it zooms ahead, the Southeast Asian nation is also struggling to keep the lights on. By the World Bank's estimation, a scant 13 percent of the population has access to the national power grid. Even North Korea and East Timor boast higher rates.

Those fortunate enough to have electricity contend with exasperating, near-daily blackouts. In the poor and unplugged hinterlands, flashlights convey status. The power shortage is a blight on progress that grinds factories to a midday halt and forces rural kids to study by candlelight.

Myanmar's president, a reformist ex-junta general named Thein Sein, has just announced a wildly ambitious goal: tripling per capita GDP to $3,600 by the year 2016. American and European investors, recently cleared to return after a 15-year spell of sanctions, are hoped to help revitalize the long-suffering nation. But without an expanded and modernized power grid, Myanmar's economic revolution may fail.

I look at this as an opportunity as solving this problem will require a large investment. The government would be wise to allow foreigners to invest in this segment.