Ten years ago, the beginning of Myanmar’s reform process under military-backed president Thein Sein marked its opening-up as a frontier market in Southeast Asia. For much of the next decade, the country’s economy grew at an average rate of 7% per year, as domestic entrepreneurs and foreign firms took advantage of an improving climate for doing business in the formerly isolated nation. And after the election victory of Aung San Suu Kyi in 2015, it seemed Myanmar’s economic boom would endure.
Yet progress ground to a halt early last year as COVID-19 emerged, causing Myanmar’s economy to shrink by nearly 10% in 2020. Then the military coup of 1 February, which marked a sudden reversal of the reforms that had allowed the National League for Democracy to rise to power, had an equally devastating impact. The World Bank now forecasts an 18% contraction in 2021, which would render Myanmar’s economy a third smaller than it was before the double crises of the coup and COVID-19.