Yangon: Retail as Livelihood

With the expansion into culture and tourism for Yangon, one of the factors that goes hand in hand with a larger influx of people is the development of a larger retail landscape. Myanmar as a country still lacks competitive edge in attracting global retail investors when referenced by the annual Global Retail Development Index (GRDI) compared to other Southeast Asian countries like China, India, and Malaysia and more.1 However, it has not failed to attract many global brands with its emerging political and historical spotlight it has gained through the past decade of opening-up in reforms and abolition of various sanctions. One of the changes that will arrive in Myanmar and specifically Yangon being a primary point of attraction is the introduction to retail models that will replace the ‘downtown’, colonial shopfronts that have been localized for the past century – possibly changing the community and fabric of the historical city.

Retail is undisputedly on the agenda of Yangon ever since 2013. In an interview with the National Strategy Advisor of Yangon, the representative states that “… Now we also need a national economic reconciliation: between the enormously wealthy few and all the rest of the people at the bottom who have not progressed.” 2 The shift that Yangon hopes to move towards is economy that bridges the spectrums. However, the players of power in that pool are foreign companies looking to find a window in unprecedented growth with intentions that may or may not fall in line with the social agenda of the government.

 

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The Parkson Department Store which opened in March 2013 is a 40,000 square foot location in downtown Yangon which re-programmed the former FMI Centre (built in 1990) into a shopping mall managed by the Malaysian Parkson Group. The shopping mall halls in globally recognized retail and consumer brands such as KFC, Mcdonalds, Ford, Panasonic, as well as large bank licenses with the likes of Mastercard.2 The formation of such a large-scale international shopping centre for Yangon has without a doubt affected the livelihood of locals. At the same time, however, many locals have started concentrating local market businesses such as snacks, fruits, vegetables, clothes and paintings towards the now 4-year old department store.3 As seen from today, the department store is surrounded by improper stalls set up to serve both the local market as well as the tourist market.

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What this reveals about globalization and the embracement of foreign investment in a city of change is that the people react to quick opportunities that new points of interests bring. Today, the ambiguous street market has filled the surroundings of the shopping centre, showing a drastic contrast between local goods and imported goods. Tourists are met with what’s familiar and what’s new without having to travel out of downtown Yangon. With increasing interests of international parties such as the AEON trade giant from Japan that plan to invest $8.1 million USD into Yangon 4, it is evident that spaces like these will continue to form in Yangon.

However, as a reflection of the current Parkson Department Store example, it is evident that foreign retail investment has no interest in collaborating with or allowing spaces for local trade. As Yangon continues to strive for excellence in raising attraction to foreign retailers, it is vital to continually understand and question the relationship of space between foreign trade and local livelihood.

 

Endnotes

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