After 50 years in the international wilderness, Myanmar is opening up and presenting a wealth of development and growth opportunities. While most countries in Southeast Asia have experienced a slowdown in growth, Myanmar’s economy has just taken on wings.

The air cargo industry in Asia looks set to endure another relatively slow peak season this year – but Myanmar represents a new bright spot in the region that forward-thinking cargo companies are already eying for future projects.

According to Global Finance, compared to the key economies in Southeast Asia, Myanmar is the only market that has shown a steady growth in real GDP since 2010 – and with the sweeping democratic reforms that began last year its economy looks likely to continue to climb upward.

Myanmar’s Ministry of National Planning and Economic Development has also reported positive results for the total value in exports and imports by government and private organizations. Total exports increased from $8,861 million to $9,136 million between 2010 and 2012 (with the fiscal year ending in April). Total imports also increased from $6,413 million to $9,069 million during the same period.

As a country that is rich in precious stones, oil, natural gas and other mineral resources, it is expected these industries will continue to dominate Myanmar’s exports chart.
While the country prepares itself to undergo overdue modernization, the import charts are dominated by items to assist with the country’s infrastructure development plans – including heavy machinery and power generation equipment.

The top five exports and imports industries in Myanmar

Rank Exports Imports
1 Mineral fuels, oils, distillation products   Boilers, machinery, nuclear reactors
2 Wood and articles of wood, wood charcoal Vehicles other than railway, tramway
3 Edible vegetables and certain roots and tubers  Articles of iron or steel
4 Pearls, precious stones, metails, coins Mineral fuels, oils, distillation products
5 Articles of apparel, accessories, not knit or crochet    Electrical, electronic equipment

(Source: International Trade Centre)

Since major powers have eased sanctions against Myanmar, the cargo industry could see a surge in imports and exports once investments are translated into actual large-scale projects.

Anton Lomakin, air cargo charter specialist at Chapman Freeborn, comments: “We are expecting bulk of cargo to be transported by sea, but there will certainly be opportunities for air cargo charters, mainly carrying project-related commodities such as high-tech, time-critical and outsize equipment to service remote parts of Myanmar lacking proper logistics infrastructures.

“We are also anticipating more machinery and project equipment imports that would be used for minerals extraction by energy related industries,” adds Lomakin.

Earlier this year, the Ministry for Energy in Myanmar put up 30 offshore oilfields for tender. According to oil industry data, Myanmar has 7.8 trillion cubic feet of proven natural gas reserves worth about $75 billion. It has been guessed that the potential gas reserves could be much bigger than what is already known. After years of economic isolation, many believed that Myanmar presents potential for significant discoveries and transformational growth.
Although poor infrastructure in Myanmar’s airports is of significant concern, the good news is airport construction and expansion projects are underway.

Lomakin says that currently most air cargo is flown in as belly-freight as airports in Myanmar are not equipped to handle big freighters – this opens up opportunities for specialized project aircraft such as the Hercules, Antonov and Ilyushin freighters because of their unique capabilities to self-load cargo.

As a significantly underserved market at the present time, Myanmar is understandably tipped by many to become Asia’s next big aviation growth market with opportunities for cargo airlines, passenger airlines and charter companies alike.

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