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Cablegate: Energizing Burma's Small and Medium Entrepreneurs

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS RANGOON 000559

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

STATE FOR EAP/BCLTV, EB
BANGKOK FOR FCS
COMMERCE FOR ITA JEAN KELLY
TREASURY FOR OASIA JEFF NEIL

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECON KPAO PGOV SCUL KWMN BM
SUBJECT: ENERGIZING BURMA'S SMALL AND MEDIUM ENTREPRENEURS

REF: RANGOON 465

1. (SBU) Summary: The executive director of the American
Chamber of Commerce in Thailand visited Rangoon explaining
the benefits of a more active civil society role for the
business community and delivering the message that combined
voices were more effective in pushing reform. Progressive
businesspeople embraced these ideas. They were keen to take
steps to counterbalance the dirigisme, cronyism, and
corruption that currently dominate Burma's business
environment and indicated they wanted to be prepared for a
future, more democratic Burma. End summary.

Words to the Wise

2. (SBU) During an April 26-27 visit to Rangoon, the American
Chamber of Commerce in Thailand's executive director spoke to
several groups of progressive small and medium entrepreneurs:
including the Myanmar Women's Entrepreneur's Association, a
group of female executive MBA students, and a panel of
increasingly politically active businesspeople. The message
to each was clear: businesspeople have a responsibility to
point out the shortcomings of their government's economic and
trade policies and try to encourage reform. This point of
view resonated with the audiences who, unlike the SPDC
cronies and corrupt businesspeople who dominate Burma's
economy, have a more global outlook and chafe under the
regressive economic and political policies of the ruling SPDC.

3. (SBU) Another important theme of the visit was that a
collective voice was better than one, or none. The message,
promoting the role of trade associations in civil society,
was that a government will lend more weight to an opinion
delivered unanimously on behalf of a large constituency. In
the Burmese context, the anonymity granted by this type of
approach also has tremendous appeal. Assuming the SPDC wants
the economy to develop (not at all assured), it might be
willing to listen to a block representing the entrepreneurs
the regime relies on to fulfill its "national objectives"
more than the advice of academics, international
organizations, or foreign governments.

4. (SBU) Many of the businesspeople opined that the regime's
often bizarre economic policymaking may be based in part on
ignorance rather than obstinacy. If this is true, the
executive director made the case that business associations
have an educating role to play. The trick, all agreed, was
finding the best conduit to the key one or two decisionmakers.

Civil Society Lacks Business Input

5. (SBU) At a well-attended talk at the American Center, the
executive director addressed the topic of "Business in Civil
Society." The remarks focused on issues like corporate
citizenship and the advocacy and educating role of a trade
association. As business here plays very little role in
society other than to make money, these topics were fairly
new ground for most of the attendees. However, the concepts
were very well received and elicited many questions on the
mechanics of business groups and many requests for further
capacity building.

Comment: Cautious but Interested

6. (SBU) Throughout the sessions, the businesspeople were
initially cautious and somewhat skeptical, coming up with
many excuses why they couldn't become more politically
active. However, as our discussions progressed they came to
accept the idea that the business community was not yet
playing an adequate or positive role in civil society and
that it should take steps to become better organized. Even if
influencing this current government was difficult, thought
and preparation now would pay dividends for progressive
entrepreneurs in a future, democratic Burma. End comment.
Martinez

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