Scotland and Myanmar boast historic links which dates back to 1886, when a Scottish firm arrived in then-Burma to drill oil.
That connection is still relevant to this day, as Scotland’s expertise on oil and gas has a lot to offer for the Southeast Asian country. But the relationship has transformed – Scotland’s traditional products, such as whisky, have found their market here. Skyscanner, an Edinburgh-based tech firm, provides travellers access to flight information covering nine cities in Myanmar.
At the British Ambassador’s Residence, the Secretary of State for Scotland David Mundell sat down with the Myanmar Times to talk about the partnership between Scotland and Myanmar in the energy sector, Scotland’s technology and innovation industry, as well as the possible impact of Brexit and independence movements on UK-Myanmar trade relations.
Mr Mundell is a member of parliament in the House of Commons. As the Scottish secretary, he takes charge of the Scotland Office. While most of the executive power has been devolved to the Scottish parliament and Scottish government in Edinburgh, the Scottish secretary is responsible for protecting the devolution settlement and facilitating partnership between the UK and Scottish governments as well as the two legislatures.
Scotland and Myanmar have strong historic connections going back to the 19th century when Scottish-owned Burmah Oil Company became the first firm to drill for oil in then-Burma in 1886. How has the relationship between the two regions evolved in recent years?
There’s a realisation in Scotland and the UK that there are very significant opportunities for business and economic relationships between Myanmar and Scotland.
Obviously, there are strong historic ties but there are opportunities in new and modern industries. We’re going to be talking about the oil industry, but there are also many opportunities in high-tech and traditional products as well. We are keen to develop Scotch whisky here. Whisky sales have increased across Asia. There’s a huge variety of whisky, particularly malt whisky, in Scotland.
People from Scotland and the rest of the UK look at the developing situation in Myanmar very positively. We see it as one where there’s an opportunity to build on these historic links, and to develop new and forward-looking relationships.
During her visit here in 2016, Lena Wilson from Scottish Enterprise said: “Myanmar now stands at exciting phase of its own oil and gas development – much like Aberdeen did in the 1970s.” Can you elaborate on how Myanmar’s oil and gas sector is similar to that of the North Sea? What can Scotland offer in this regard?
It is very similar because Scotland was a country without a significant history of oil and gas exploration. But we brought in external expertise and we developed Aberdeen as the hub for the North Sea. We built up a lot of experience, established a very strong supply chain and other businesses which support the industry.
So we’ve got a lot of experience that we can share. One of the things we can share, just in terms of the experience, is how to make the most of the development for the local economy.
Aberdeen is a very good example of how the benefits have flowed into Scotland and the whole of the UK from the industry. It is a good example of making sure that’s what happens and also harnessing external expertise.
Apart from the energy sector and whisky, what other industries or businesses want to be involved in Myanmar? Do Scotland’s start-ups such as Fanduel and Skyscanner plan to tap into this market?
I think very much so. Skyscanner is an incredible business. It is a business success that began as a very small business in Scotland. Now, it is a global phenomenon and obviously it is one that has great presence here in Southeast Asia. It’s an example of how you can take a good idea, a small business and make that opportunity.
Those are the sort of businesses that we can collaborate with and develop.
Prime Minister Theresa May has triggered Article 50 and the Brexit process has formally begun. How does Brexit represent a possible change of trade relations between the UK and Myanmar, and between the UK and ASEAN?
We’ve begun the process of leaving the EU and that will now be negotiated. An important point to make is that Britain still wants to have a good relationship with the EU and work with the EU.
We see the EU as a very important partner. While we didn’t see our own future in the EU, we want the EU to remain successful. That’s an important part of this negotiation process.
There are two parts of the negotiation: one is the negotiation for us to leave, and then the next part is our new relationship with the EU and then with other countries. What Brexit allows us to do is have our own direct trading arrangements with Myanmar and indeed the other ASEAN countries, so we can come to an arrangement that’s right for us, each of us.
We will not be bound, over time, by the EU arrangements which have to accommodate the needs of 28 countries.
The trade arrangements will be what’s best for Britain, what’s best for Myanmar, what’s best for the other ASEAN countries. Therefore, we see that as a great opportunity in terms of being able to increase trade both ways.
Britain is a great trading nation as historically that’s what economic growth and global influences are founded on, and we want to return to that.
Leaving the EU isn’t about us focusing in on ourselves, it’s actually about looking back out and being very outward-looking, and obviously also supporting free trade.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has formally requested Theresa May for another independence referendum. Is that going to happen? How will that affect Scottish or UK businesses?
Firstly, I don’t support independence for Scotland. We’ve had a referendum in 2014 and people decisively voted in favour of staying in the United Kingdom. I believe that result should be respected because the thought that we could be having another independence referendum does bring great uncertainty for businesses.
However, as you say, Nicola Sturgeon, first minister of Scotland, has made that request. Theresa May has been very clear that she does not believe that now is the time for such a referendum, and therefore is not agreeable to granting that request.
She feels, as I do, that it would be unfair to people in Scotland to ask them to make a choice when they didn’t fully know what Brexit meant for them, for Scotland and for the UK, and in particular, the UK’s future relationship with the EU. Theresa May has been very clear on that. I hope now that the issue can be put to the side, and we can get on with the negotiations about leaving the EU.
Source: Myanmar Times