A new batch of foreign companies will invest a collective USD 24 million to make garments and bags in Yangon. According to the Yangon Region Investment Committee (YRIC), ten companies from Myanmar as well as China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Estonia will establish production operations in the Thilawa Special Economic Zone and other industrial zones in the Yangon Region. YRIC says the combined investments will create almost 9000 new jobs. The largest investor will be the domestically-owned Genesis Myanmar Garment Co. Ltd. which will spend around USD 4 million to begin manufacturing bags. They will be followed by Hong Kong’s Fineline Company Ltd., which will invest just over USD 2 million, also in bag production.
The new round of investment comes amid a boom for garments, which are Myanmar’s chief manufactured product. In the 2018-2019 fiscal year, the industry had reached USD 4.6 billion in exports, according to the Ministry of Commerce. The Myanmar Garment Entrepreneurs Association claims the sector will reach USD 10 billion in annual exports by 2024. However, 2019 and 2020 has also been a season of demonstrations, walk-outs and strikes among garment workers. The most common demands include higher pay and greater protections against factory bosses who violate worker rights. The demonstrations are in anticipation of an upcoming meeting of the National Committee for Minimum Wage, which will weigh raising the minimum wage from its current level of MMK 4800 per day. Garment merchants claim that a higher minimum wage would drive away foreign investors–an argument they have made since Myanmar introduced its first minimum wage in 2015. However, even a generous raise would still leave Myanmar’s minimum wage one of the lowest in Southeast Asia.