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An old hand with an ‘eye for Myanmar’ - M-ZINE+’s Victoria Bruce speaks to Keith Rabin


Keith Rabin is president of KWR International (KWR), an American consulting firm specializing in delivering economic-based research and consultancy services. He first visited Myanmar in 1980.

His professional experience spans engagements for the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, the Korea Securities Dealers Association (KSDA), and numerous foreign and local governments and business associations.

You’re a veteran of the American financial community – what has been the general reaction towards Obama’s Myanmar visit and US re-engagement with Myanmar? Is Myanmar a country on the US business community’s radar and why?

The general view in the US toward Myanmar is one of curiosity. Most businesses remain primarily focused on our domestic economy and few have any experience dealing with Southeast Asia. Where tangible interest exists, it remains mostly focused on China, though it is true that interest is growing. So aside from the major multinationals and a few select cases, I don’t think you can really say it is ‘on the radar’. This is especially true in comparison to what we are seeing from clients and contacts in Japan, Korea, other parts of ASEAN and Australia. While it is also early in these markets, they have both shown more interest, and in general begun taking steps to identify specific opportunities and entry strategies.

Part of the challenge is U.S. firms need to redefine their approach to international business. Until recently Southeast Asia and emerging markets were seen primarily as a low-cost collection of countries from which to manufacture products and commodities for export. This, however, is changing as these markets expand, wages and costs rise, and growing numbers of people adopt middle class or better lifestyles. This is creating more demand for the higher-value products, services and brands produced by U.S. companies at a time when our own cost competitiveness is improving relative to other countries and revenue growth is difficult in more mature markets given current economic weakness in the U.S., E.U. and Japan.

Keith, tell us about your personal experience with Myanmar. When did you first visit the country?

I first visited Myanmar in 1980. China was opening up at that time, and I had thought about becoming involved there, but I had seen a documentary on Myanmar a few years earlier in college and after a business trip took me to Asia I visited Myanmar and decided to start a trading company that focused on this market.

I became one of a very small group of non-diplomatic foreigners allowed to extend my visa and for the next seven years travelled extensively within the country and spent several months a year there. Maintaining close relations with a wide range of government and private entities in Myanmar as well as the U.S., we worked 

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