European Union External Action

Myanmar (Burma) and the EU

The European Union is firmly committed to support the country and its people on their path to democracy, peace and prosperity. Myanmar's successful democratisation and socio-economic development will further strengthen the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), the EU's natural partner in South-East Asia.

Myanmar's democratic transition

In 2011, Myanmar's quasi-civilian government embarked on a substantial process of reform by taking the first steps towards democratisation, peace with the country's ethnic armed groups, and socio-economic recovery. The holding of credible and competitive elections in November 2015 marked an important milestone in the transition process and provided the National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, an absolute majority in parliament. The new NLD-led government took office in April 2016, with U Htin Kyaw becoming the first civilian president in more than half a century and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi serving as State Counsellor, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Minister of the President's Office.

The EU as a partner in transition

The European Union is a partner of Myanmar in its transition, having rapidly responded to political changes in the country and provided strong support for democratic and economic reforms from the outset. The EU suspended sanctions and opened an office in 2012. In 2013, all EU sanctions, with the exception of an arms embargo, were lifted. Trade preferences under the "Everything But Arms" scheme, which allows duty free and quota free access to the single European market of 500 million consumers, were restored. A full-fledged EU Delegation was opened in 2013. In the same year, an EU-Myanmar Task Force meeting with the participation of four Commissioners, the European Parliament and the European Investment Bank took place in Yangon and Nay Pyi Taw, combining all instruments the EU has at its disposal to support democratisation. In October 2015, the EU signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement as an international witness, reflecting its key role in supporting the peace process. The EU deployed the largest international Election Observation Mission to observe the general elections on 8 November 2015, on the invitation of the Union Election Commission.

In 2012-2013, the EU increased its development support to Myanmar with an initial package of EUR 150 million, while in 2014 the Multiannual Indicative Programme 2014-2020 was adopted with an indicative allocation of EUR 688 million over seven years. In order to promote aid effectiveness, the EU and its member states have been engaged in the joint programming of development cooperation since 2013.

The new EU strategy for Myanmar

In June 2016, the European Union responded to the new political context after the November elections with the launch of a new EU strategy in support of Myanmar's reforms. The foreign ministers of all 28 EU member states endorsed this new strategy through Council Conclusions.

The 2016 EU-Myanmar strategy:

  • Reaffirms the EU's commitment to support Myanmar's goal of becoming a sustainable democracy with full respect for the rule of law through building effective institutions and assisting the reform of the security sector
  • Opens the door for increased engagement with the society as a whole, including local governments, the justice sector, parliaments and civil society
  • Reaffirms the EU's commitment to support the peace process, including through a Joint Peace Fund. The Joint Peace Fund is designed to provide financial and technical support to national peace building initiatives. So far ten international donors have contributed to the Joint Peace Fund with a view to improve coordination and foster local ownership
  • Offers to work together with the Myanmar government on addressing human rights concerns, including the situation in Rakhine State and respect for minorities, combating hate speech and intolerance, and ensuring the full implementation of UN human rights resolutions
  • Reiterates the EU's commitment to support Myanmar through sustainable and inclusive development assistance. The Multi-annual Indicative Programme (MIP) 2014-2020 and joint programming priorities will be complemented by new mechanisms to deliver aid support. This includes working directly with relevant institutions to increase the effectiveness of social services and to formulate sector policies as part of a state-building approach
  • Aims to stimulate European business interest through the conclusion of an Investment Protection Agreement, while also promoting corporate social responsibility and responsible investment
  • Aims to enhance cooperation with Myanmar as a member of ASEAN so as to strengthen the regional integration process as well as the EU's partnership with ASEAN

Political dialogue

In 2013, the EU and Myanmar agreed to open a new chapter in their relations and laid the foundations of a strong partnership. A high-level political dialogue was launched and the two partners engage in an annual Human Rights Dialogue which is co-chaired by the Myanmar Deputy Foreign Minister and the EU Special Representative for Human Rights. This engagement underscores the particular attention the EU places on democratic transition and human rights in the country, including minority rights.

The EU and Myanmar also co-operate in multilateral fora. For many years, the EU has tabled resolutions on the human rights situation in Myanmar in the United Nations General Assembly and Human Rights Council.

Myanmar’s first ASEAN chairmanship in 2014 provided the opportunity for the EU to step up engagement with the country at the regional level and work towards implementing the "Bandar Seri Begawan Plan of Action to strengthen the ASEAN-EU Enhanced Partnership (2013-2017)". The chairmanship also enabled the promotion of EU strategic interests in the Asia Pacific region as set out later on in the EU Joint Communication ‘The EU and ASEAN: a partnership with a strategic purpose’ and the ensuing Council conclusions.

The EU and Myanmar cooperate in broad security and defence related matters in the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). The Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) is another multilateral forum for engagement. In 2017, Myanmar will host the 13th ASEM Foreign Ministerial Meeting.

Myanmar has witnessed remarkable change since reforms began in 2011, and the arrival in office in April 2016 of a new, democratically elected government also provides new opportunities for trade and investment.

For decades, bilateral trade between Myanmar and the EU has been far below that of other ASEAN countries, due to both sanctions from the EU and the withdrawal of trade preferences under the Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP) for Myanmar exports. However, after the government under President U Thein Sein committed itself to reform in 2011, a number of steps were taken to reform the Myanmar economy and attract investment from foreign countries.

The EU was one of the first to support these changes, suspending sanctions in April 2012 and lifting them in April 2013. Following recognition from the Conference of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) of Myanmar's progress towards eradication of forced labour, the preferential access for Myanmar products to the EU market was re-established on 19 July 2013. Since then Myanmar, as a least developed country, benefits from the Everything But Arms (EBA) initiative under the Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP), allowing companies to enjoy duty-free and quota-free exports to the EU market for all products except arms and ammunition. An increasing number of Myanmar exporters have been taking advantage of this scheme, boosting the local economy at a crucial time.

In 2015, EU-Myanmar bilateral trade in goods reached EUR 1.2 billion, a 38% increase compared to 2014 (EUR 886.5 million), and a 300% growth from 2012 (EUR 404 million), according to EU statistics. In 2015, the EU exported goods to Myanmar worth EUR 549 million. Products were mainly aircraft, machinery, electrical machinery and equipment, pharmaceutical products, optical lens and cosmetics. EU imports of goods from Myanmar amounted to EUR 675 million, of which 62% were garment. Other goods imported from Myanmar included rice, fisheries products, wood products and beans. In terms of foreign direct investment, the EU was the 4th largest foreign investor with around 10% of total investment, following China, Singapore and Hong Kong, according to Myanmar´s official statistics (as of January 2016).

As part of efforts to strengthen trade and investment ties, the EU and Myanmar are negotiating a bilateral Investment Protection Agreement since March 2014, to help provide security for investors and increase the level of European FDI into Myanmar, to the benefit of all. The EU is committed to working with the authorities, the private sector and the people to create the best possible regulatory environment for business operators. The EU recognises the vital contribution the private sector has to make to the country's development and welcomes European companies exploring trade and investment opportunities in Myanmar, whilst upholding the highest standards of integrity and corporate social responsibility.

Further to the remarkable developments in Myanmar and the recent transition to a democratically elected government, the EU has taken a fresh look at its strategy to review its engagement on democracy and human rights, the peace process, the economy and sustainable development. The joint communication to the European Parliament and the Council which was released on 1 June 2016 and the Council Conclusions of 20 June 2016 reiterate the EU's interest in strengthening its relationship with Myanmar and its commitment to support the transition following the November 2015 election. The joint communication and the Council Conclusions also reaffirm the EU's commitments in various areas including through economic engagement. If Myanmar can address the important remaining challenges, its transition can unlock vast economic and business opportunities. The EU will therefore seek to conclude the negotiations of the Investment Protection Agreement, and help improve the regulatory framework and labour standards.

You can view the latest trade statistics between the EU and Myanmar at the European Commission's Trade website.

The strategic objective of the EU's assistance programme in Myanmar is to support the on-going reform process and the country's efforts to build a functioning democracy, as well as to foster inclusive and sustainable development.

The EU has been providing assistance to Myanmar since 1996, when aid was primarily focused on health care and HIV/AIDS programmes, and repatriation schemes for returnees. The first country-specific EU aid strategy for Myanmar was drafted in 2007 and one year later EU assistance was vital in supporting the recovery after cyclone Nargis. In 2012, an additional amount of EUR 150 million was allocated to support health, education and agriculture, but also Myanmar's peace process through working with ethnic groups and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).

The current country strategy covers the period 2014-2020 with EUR 688 million of bilateral assistance – as detailed in the Multi-annual Indicative Programme (MIP) – making the EU one of the country's major donors. Under the current MIP, assistance targets four priority sectors which were identified after extensive discussions with the government and other stakeholders:

  • Rural development, agriculture and food and nutrition security (EUR 241 million): with the objective of contributing to the eradication of poverty and hunger in rural areas of Myanmar through sustainable rural development, including environmentally sustainable agriculture.
  • Education (EUR 241 million), with the objective of contributing to Myanmar achieving education-related national and international goals.
  • Governance, Rule of Law, State capacity building (EUR 96 million), with the objective of supporting Myanmar's democratic transition and reform agenda.
  • Peacebuilding (EUR 103 million), with the objective of contributing to lasting peace and security by supporting the ongoing peace process.

In addition to EU bilateral support, Myanmar benefits from assistance through various EU thematic and regional programmes such as:

Myanmar is also eligible for regional programmes such as SWITCH Asia or Aid to Uprooted People. The EU is also supporting trade and private sector development in Myanmar. For instance, the launch of the European Chamber of Commerce in Myanmar in December 2014 aims to reinforce links between Myanmar businesses and their European counterparts and to share experiences on good management practices, including Corporate Social Responsibility. Through the EU-funded Trade Development Programme, launched in 2015, technical assistance is provided to several ministries on trade-related issues, including trade reform, trade facilitation, trade promotion, export quality management or consumer protection.

Myanmar is undergoing important economic and social transformation but the benefits for the poorest and most vulnerable will only become tangible over a longer timeframe. With an average per capita income of USD 702, the country ranks 150th in the Human Development Index and continues to face high poverty levels (with one in three people living below the poverty line). Despite a wealth of natural resources and a huge potential for developing its agriculture and aquaculture production, food insecurity and undernutrition are more prevalent in the rural areas of the country.

The European Union channels its support to agriculture and rural development mostly through the Livelihoods and Food Security Trust Fund (LIFT), being the second largest donor and Chair of the Fund Board. LIFT is a multi-donor fund established in 2009 to improve the lives and prospects of smallholder farmers and landless people in rural Myanmar. LIFT is working to ensure that Myanmar’s rural economic transformation is inclusive, promoting agricultural commercialisation, climate smart agriculture, financial inclusion, business and skills development, and targeted nutrition support for mothers and children. LIFT also funds a migration programme to make migration safer, and to connect workers to new economic opportunities and jobs. Moreover, LIFT supports the implementation of the so-called Strategic Framework for Rural Development, officially launched by the Ministry of Livestock, Fisheries and Rural Development in 2013. It has also engaged with Myanmar's Ministry of Environment Conservation and Forestry as part of the consultation process for the new National Land Use Policy, namely through capacity development in land-use mapping and land-use planning.

In addition to LIFT, the EU's commitment also includes projects supporting food security in areas with internally displaced people (along the border with Bangladesh and Thailand), actions aimed at promoting financial inclusion among low-income rural households, as well as initiatives to improve the nutrition of women and children.

The education sector in Myanmar has suffered from decades of underinvestment. The European Union support to education dates back to 2007, with a focus on overall sector reform as well as primary, secondary and technical vocational education and training (TVET). This support has been channelled mainly through the Multi Donor Education Fund (MDEF) which comprises Australia, Denmark, Norway, UK and the EU – being also co-funded by UNICEF. Launched in 2013, the Quality Basic Education Programme (QBEP) is the second phase of MDEF, having the EU as its largest donor. The aim is to strengthen the quality of education and get more children into school, including through non-formal education services. By the end of 2015 already, QBEP has reached over 21,600 teachers and 675,000 children in 34 townships across Myanmar.

QBEP also works to improve the capacity of Myanmar's Ministry of Education in planning, monitoring and evaluation. The programme provided strategic technical and financial support to the Comprehensive Education Sector Review (CESR) process, which led to the development of a draft National Education Strategic Plan (NESP), as well as to the establishment of a Joint Education Sector Working Group and thematic sub working groups.

In addition to QBEP, the EU supports education projects in remote and conflict-affected areas. Implemented by the Lutheran World Federation, the Education Assistance to Children in Rakhine State builds safe and protective learning environments for children in formal schools, camps for internally displaced persons and host villages in Rakhine State.

A growing number of Myanmar students and academic staff also benefit from scholarship programmes, both through the Erasmus+ initiative and the so-called "EU Support to Higher Education in ASEAN Region" (SHARE) project. Since 2015, SHARE is also contributing to the harmonisation of ASEAN higher education standards, supporting mutual recognition of learning outcomes and promoting mobility of students.

Following more than five decades of authoritarian rule, which have eroded state institutions and undermined citizens' confidence in the state's capacity to govern and deliver, Myanmar has embarked on a remarkable process of democratic reform. The holding of credible elections in November 2015 marked another important milestone in this transition process. To assist Myanmar in developing a functioning democracy with full respect for human rights and the rule of law, the EU is committed to help build effective institutions, improve access to justice, support the reform of the security sector. In doing so it engages with society as a whole – the government, the justice sector, parliaments, political parties, media, civil society as well as human rights defenders. In supporting the democratisation process, the EU recognises the crucial importance of encouraging broad participation in political decision-making processes and local ownership of development processes.

Over the last few years, the EU's engagement and priorities have been translated into a number of large governance programmes such as MyJustice or STEP Democracy. Launched in 2015, the MyJustice programme enhances access to justice for the poor, vulnerable and marginalised across the country. It equips communities, legal practitioners and justice institutions to with innovative tools such as community mediation and paralegal services. MyJustice adopts a people-centred approach to encourage learning, trust and collaboration among all actors, empowering communities to deliver appropriate solutions to the justice challenges they face.

Another flagship action funded by the EU is the Support to the Electoral Process and Democracy (STEP Democracy) programme. Initially focused on assisting the efforts of the Myanmar electoral administration and other actors to meet electoral best practices, paving the way for the general elections of November 2015, this programme continues to support the diverse political and civil actors in building inclusive and democratic institutions. STEP Democracy is founded on solid cooperation between international and local organisations, to encourage knowledge transfer through comprehensive technical advice, capacity development, informing of voters, and dialogue promotion.

Another relevant EU initiative in this area is the so-called Institutional Strengthening and Policy Dialogue Support programme. This programme aims to strengthen public institutions as well as non-state actors (including private sector and civil society), and develop capacities for policymaking, planning and implementation.

Finally, the EU is also renewing its support to the reform of the Myanmar Police Force in 2016, to contribute to a more preventive, balanced and professional approach based on international best practices and respect for human rights. Building on the achievements of the Instrument for Stability and Peace project, future initiatives will focus on accountability issues (political, legal, public and internal accountability.

Peace is a pre-condition for consolidating democracy, promoting development and protecting human rights in Myanmar. If the peace process is derailed, inter-communal violence will continue, security will remain elusive, and all other development assistance will risk being ineffective.

The EU has provided a comprehensive package of support to the peace process to balance assistance to different actors and stakeholders, and effectively assist the structures and institutions furthering the peace process. All EU-funded initiatives are informed by a thorough understanding of local contexts, ensuring that interventions are locally driven and contribute to building trust by addressing the fears and aspirations of communities.

Through various instruments, the EU is one of the most important donors in the country's peace process. In coordination with other major peace donors, the EU provided support to the Myanmar Peace Centre (now National Peace and Reconciliation Centre), supporting the negotiations that led to the 2015 National Ceasefire Agreement, and many community based organisations in conflict affected areas aimed at protecting human rights, improving livelihoods and fostering reconciliation. Through the Shalom Foundation, the EU is also providing support to ethnic leaders in negotiations with the new government for the next phases of the peace process.

Longer term support to Myanmar is channelled through the recently EU-initiated Joint Peace Fund (JPF), together with other donors. The JPF will support the next stages of the peace process, including the Joint Ceasefire Monitoring mechanism, the National Political Dialogue, as well as research and needs assessments, in order to provide aid for recovery and development in former conflict affected areas.

Human rights are one of the core values of the European Union, and we seek to ensure that all human rights – civil, political, economic, social or cultural – are respected all over the world. Since Myanmar embarked on its reform process, significant gains have been made in many fields, including media freedom, freedom of association and assembly, labour rights, and the release of political prisoners. The EU is committed to helping to safeguard this progress and to assisting the government and people of Myanmar to bring about further change.

At the launch of the EU-Myanmar Task Force in November 2013, it was agreed to establish a structured regular Human Rights Dialogue, allowing for constructive and open discussions on issues of mutual interest and concern. In May 2014, the first bilateral EU-Myanmar Human Rights Dialogue was held in Nay Pyi Taw, with EU Special Representative for Human Rights, Stavros Lambrinidis, co-chairing the meeting on the EU side. The second Human Rights Dialogue took place in June 2015 and subsequent events are planned on an annual basis.

Support to human rights defenders – both organisations and individuals – is another key part of our work. Human rights defenders are a vital part of the reform process: they work to hold political actors accountable, help the government comply with international norms and ensure that the voices of marginalised communities are heard in the political process. The EU Delegation to Myanmar regularly meets with human rights defenders to listen to their grievances and help find solutions to remaining human rights challenges. We have also translated the EU Guidelines for Human Rights Defenders into the Myanmar language, accessible online here. Through the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights, the EU empowers and supports the work of community Human Rights Defenders in promoting and protecting political, civil, social, economic and cultural rights, especially for groups particularly vulnerable to discrimination such as the poor, women, children, minority groups and migrants.

EU humanitarian aid is designed to help the most vulnerable victims of humanitarian crises, regardless of their ethnicity, religion, gender, age, nationality or political affiliation. It is impartial and neutral, and based on needs, not on political considerations.

As part of a global strategy, the European Commission funds such aid through its Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), led by Commissioner Christos Stylianides. ECHO channels its funds through international non-governmental organisations (INGOs), United Nations agencies and the Red Cross/Red Crescent movement.

In Myanmar, conflict in several border regions has been ongoing for decades, leading to constant insecurity and displacement for the people who live in these areas. In addition, inter-communal violence between Buddhist and Muslim communities, particularly in Rakhine State in 2012, has resulted in the displacement of some 140,000 people, mostly Muslims. Overall, more than two hundred thousand people in the country currently live in internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps, and UNHCR estimates that more than 1 million are deprived of their basic rights.

The EU has provided EUR 218 million humanitarian aid to Myanmar since 1994, including EUR 133 million in response to conflict situations, EUR 85 million in response to natural disasters (with EUR 39 million after Cyclone Nargis in the Irrawaddy Delta (2008) and EUR 10 million after Cyclone Giri in Rakhine (2010); and EUR 3.5 million following the 2015 floods and landslides (for which the EU Civil Protection mechanism was also activated) and epidemics, and to build resilience. In 2016, EUR 13.6 million were allocated to Myanmar and EUR 1.3 million for Burmese refugees in Thailand. In the last few years, two "Children of Peace" projects have financed education interventions in Rakhine, Kachin and Shan States. For 2016, this funding focuses on south east regions.

Given Myanmar’s vulnerability to natural disasters, the EU has also been funding Disaster Risk Reduction activities in the country for many years, particularly through its dedicated DIPECHO (Disaster Preparedness ECHO) programme, which was set up in 1996 to improve the capacities of at-risk local communities to better prepare for and protect themselves from disasters. Since 2010, EUR 6.6 million have been dedicated to this end in coastal flood-prone areas and urban earthquake risk zones, including EUR 1.7 million which has been allocated in 2016 to a consortium comprising several INGOs focussing on disaster preparedness in coastal areas and in cities, with an increased focus on earthquake-related hazards.

ECHO operations in Myanmar are monitored by its Field Office in Yangon and by the ECHO Regional Office in Bangkok.

For more information on ECHO's work in Myanmar please follow this link.

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