Today, also while in Davos, I met Myanmar Industry Minister Soe Thein, one of those supporting the current reform agenda. He heads Myanmar’s investment commission and is a key political actor shaping economic reform and liberalisation.
There is currently very encouraging progress in political, economic and social reforms in Myanmar, changes which will help developing relations with the EU. We welcome the release of political prisoners. But of course, we have other important expectations – like free and fair elections on 1 April, the release of remaining political prisoners, and conciliation with the various ethnic groups.
We want to help the transition – for example, with administrative capacity building, to improve economic management and regulatory practice.
In the digital sphere there is a lot to do. I believe ICT could be one of the drivers for Myanmar’s route to economic development but also societal reform and underpinning the democratic process.
And here telecommunications infrastructure and the Internet play a key role. It is really underdeveloped and in the hands of a state monopoly. With a well-managed market opening, foreign investment can give the opportunity to leapfrog technologies by moving straight to LTE (4G wireless). We can also share experience to open up spectrum by switching off analogue television, the so called digital dividend.
As for fixed Internet, there is an opportunity to connect the country to GEANT, the EU-led global fibre-based high-capacity backbone for research and education institutions. We have quite some experience in connecting South East Asian countries to this network, most recently Bangladesh.
And, remember, the Internet is a powerful motor of free expression, to underpin ongoing political reform. I have been talking here in Davos about the EU’s No Disconnect Strategy. I’m happy to see that the Internet is already substantially free of restrictions in Myanmar; in fact, less restrictive than some of its neighbours.