Myanmar (formerly Burma), Economy
express disapproval, agricultural country, nationalization, political unrest, Socialism
Myanmar is primarily an agricultural country. Some 63 percent of the working population is engaged in growing or processing crops, while another 12 percent works in industry. Before World War II Myanmar was the world’s major rice exporter. After the war, the area of land devoted to agriculture slowly recovered, but as the population grew the surplus available for export never reached the earlier level. For a while forestry was the major export earner. Today, tourism, though small by international standards (there were 208,000 visitors in 2000), is the major source of foreign exchange. From 1962 to 1988 the government attempted to develop the economy following a “Burmese Way to Socialism,” with nationalization of most industries. The policy was a failure, however, and in the 1990s the government has opened the economy to market forces, particularly inviting foreign investment. Still, many state economic enterprises continue to lose money, the black market flourishes, and the heavy government spending for the growing military budget feeds inflation, running at 38 percent in 1994. By the end of the 1994-1995 fiscal year, after several years of significant growth, the levels of gross domestic product (GDP), agricultural output, consumption, and investment in Myanmar were about one-tenth higher than they had been in 1985-1986, the best year before the military coup d’etat and political unrest of 1988. Since the population had grown in the interim, this means that the average person remained worse off than a decade before. Purchasing power in U.S. dollars was estimated at $41.4 billion in 1994, or about $930 per capita. In 1997 the United States imposed strong economic sanctions on Myanmar to express disapproval of the military government’s human rights record. That same year Asia suffered a regional economic downturn. These developments affected Myanmar’s economy, slowing foreign investment and raising inflation.
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