UNCTAD helps the southeast Asian nation develop a strategy to build on e-commerce growth in sectors such as food delivery, online retail and mobile payments.
Handcrafted colorful lotus fabrics made from lotus fibers in Inle Lake, Shan State, Myanmar / ©Sasint
Myanmar’s e-commerce firms have seen a spike in sales during lockdowns to contain COVID-19, with consumers stocking up on hand sanitizers, dry foods, canned goods and other essential items.
While the number of online shoppers in the country is still small – only 3% of the population shopped online in 2017 – the government has prioritized strengthening e-commerce in its economic relief plan in the wake of the pandemic.
COVID-19 has hit Myanmar hard, with GDP growth estimated to drop from 6.8% between 2018 and 2019 to 0.5% between 2019 and 2020, according to the World Bank.
UNCTAD is supporting the southeast Asian country to develop a national e-commerce strategy to help the country recover from the effects of the pandemic, as part of its eTrade for all partnership. The work is funded by the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF).
“Myanmar’s efforts to step up support for e-commerce are laudable,” said Shamika Sirimanne, UNCTAD’s director of technology and logistics. “The ongoing public-private collaboration is critical for building broad ownership and support for the national e-commerce strategy across the entire ecosystem.”
Climbing the e-commerce ladder
Myanmar was climbing the e-commerce ladder even prior to the pandemic.
The country jumped seven spots from 133 to 126 out of 152 economies in the 2019 UNCTAD B2C E-commerce Index, a marker of its e-commerce progress in recent years.
The country’s ministry of commerce recently hosted a webinar to present a draft of the strategy.
Over 90 organizations participated in the online consultations, with many noting that e-commerce had become a major pillar of the Myanmar economy during the COVID-19 crisis and could generate development benefits if fully supported.
“E-commerce is increasingly becoming an imperative for more inclusive economic growth and competitiveness in developing countries,” said U Minn Minn, director-general of the department of trade at the ministry of commerce.
The e-commerce strategy could help increase access to regional and international markets, create jobs locally and foster synergies across government initiatives and national plans, said Chaw Khin Khin, joint secretary of the Myanmar Computer Federation.
The strategy is also expected to accelerate Myanmar’s regional integration in line with its e-commerce commitments in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations as well as multilateral initiatives at the World Trade Organization.
Challenges to overcome
Despite the pandemic-induced boom in e-commerce, many businesses in Myanmar face severe challenges.
In a recent UNCTAD survey of e-commerce businesses and platforms in the country, respondents reported problems such as supply and delivery chain disruptions, higher costs due to lockdowns and closure of markets, transport and storage facilities.
In response, the government’s economic stimulus has provided fiscal and monetary relief to businesses.
Its stimulus package includes provisions for tax relief, credit for businesses, food support and cash transfers to households and policies to facilitate trade and investment.
Measures to boost to e-commerce include promoting the use of mobile payment services and launching a website where retail businesses can sell their products.
Also, the government plans to provide grants to Myanmar-based technology firms that present innovative ideas to combat COVID-19.
Helping countries tap into e-commerce
UNCTAD has conducted 25 e-trade readiness assessments in developing and least developed countries in the Asia-Pacific region and Africa since 2017.
These assessments help countries identify and resolve barriers to e-commerce to drive economic growth, foster inclusive trade and create jobs.
Various countries are implementing the assessments’ recommendations, with UNCTAD’s support.