Norway and Myanmar are enjoying close and growing bilateral relations, and cooperate on a broad range of issues. The past years have been characterised by frequent political contact and exchange of visits between the two countries. Then-President Thein Sein visited Norway in February 2013, as the first European country. In 2014, the Norwegian King Harald and Queen Sonja visited Myanmar together with the Minister of Foreign Affairs Børge Brende and Minister of Trade and Industry Monica Mæland. Deputy Foreign Minister Bård Glad Pedersen visited Myanmar in July 2015. In November 2012, then-Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg formally opened the newly established Diplomatic Mission in Yangon. The permanent Norwegian presence in Myanmar was upgraded to Embassy upon the arrival of Ambassador Ann Ollestad on 28 October 2013.
Norway was one of the early international supporters of the peace process between the Thein Sein government and Myanmar’s Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs). For instance, Norway led the Myanmar Peace Support Initiative (MPSI), which financed development and humanitarian projects in ceasefire areas, seeking to build trust between the parties to the conflict.
Supporting the ongoing peace process also during the current government continues to be on the top of our agenda. Norway is in close and regular dialogue with the different parties to the process, attempting to be a constructive partner to the people of Myanmar by providing flexible and rapid support upon request. Among our priorities are involving all parties, confidence-building through concrete projects on the ground, building people’s capacity to take part in the process, increasing meaningful participation of women and promoting the inclusion of civil society.
Among main partners for Norwegian support to the peace process during 2016 are:
- Joint Peace Fund (JPF). Support to peace architecture (negotiation parties and events), peacebuilding initiatives and research.
- Peace Support Fund (PSF). Gender, Peace and Security Window: support to organizations working on Gender, Peace and Security issues on the sub-national level.
- UN Support Platform. Support to the Joint Ceasefire Monitoring Committee (JMC).
- Center for Peace & Conflict Studies (CPCS). Contributing to strategic interventions in armed conflict and communal conflict through research , recommendations and leadership trainings.
- Shalom Foundation. Support to the Technical Advisory Team for the Kachin Independence Organization, the Coordination Team for Ethnic Armed Organizations, preparations for peace process and public consultations in Kachin.
- Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA). Support to Mon National Education Committee, among others.
- Euro-Burma Office (EBO). Support to the liaison offices of 20 Ethnic Armed Organizations, among others.
- Danish Church Aid. Support to the Ethnic Peace and Resources Project (EPRP), which was established to provide resources for ethnic leaders and communities in support of the emerging peace process.
- UN Women. On centering women and their priorities in the peace process: implementing UN Security Council Resolution 1325 and related Resolutions.
Norway is also a member of the Peace Support Group (PSG).
Norway is an important international partner to Myanmar’s transition, based on a longstanding commitment. Prior to 2008, and at the height of internal conflict and violence, Norway engaged with local partners promoting political reform - an engagement that continues today. At the same time, it worked with exile organizations promoting change from outside of Myanmar. As a result, Norway established unique and trusted relationships with organisations in civil society and other leaders, many of whom are key actors in the transition process.
In 2012, the Government of Norway developed a strategy for development cooperation with Myanmar. The strategy sets the stage for long-term development cooperation between Myanmar and Norway, particularly in the areas of (1) peace, democracy and reform and (2) natural resource management, particularly energy and environment/climate change.
The overarching goal of Norwegian development cooperation with Myanmar is to contribute to peace and reconciliation and an enabling environment for social and economic development. In 2013 and 2014, Norway provided a combined amount of 319 million Norwegian kroner (approximately 37 million USD) in development assistance to Myanmar.
Peace, democracy and reform
In 2012, Norway was requested by the Government to establish the Myanmar Peace Support Initiative (MPSI) and the Peace Support Group (PSG). The projects initiated through MPSI were completed in 2015. Through the Peace Support Group, Norway continues to work closely with the Government and ethnic groups to support their ongoing efforts of securing national peace and supports a number of civil society organizations working to promote peace and reconciliation on the grass roots level. Norway led the PSG from its inception in 2012, before handing over the chairmanship to Switzerland in 2015. The Norwegian Embassy is currently working with the PSG on establishing a Joint Peace Fund. Gender equality continues to be a top priority for Norway in Myanmar, and the embassy is currently working actively to increase the participation of women in the peace process.
Support to the democratization process has been and still is an important part of Norwegian development cooperation with Myanmar. While in earlier times the support was principally channeled through organizations and media operating outside of Myanmar, the bulk of the support is now being channeled through organizations based in Myanmar. Prior to the national elections in November 2015 the Embassy was actively involved in dialogue with the Government of Myanmar, opposition, Union Election Committee, media and civil society regarding various election issues. Norway issued support to several projects related to the elections, including the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL), Carter Center, UNDP, I-IDEA and Norwegian Peoples Aid.
The Government of Myanmar is in the process of implementing an ambitious reform agenda. Norway has supported the Government in these reform efforts with capacity building and expert advice on economic reform, and capacity building related to the implementation if the Freedom of Association Law, through the International Labour Organization (ILO). Additionally, Norway provided assistance to the Government to prepare for the chairmanship of the Association of the South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2014.
Norway was also a significant contributor to the sensitive and important 2014 Population and Housing Census, through United Nations' Populations Fund (UNFPA). The relationship between Buddhists and Muslims in Rakhine remains tense, and the fragile situation still requires close monitoring. In this context, Norway will continue its support to all parties in Rakhine.
Realizing the country's energy potential and increasing access to electricity are top priorities of the Myanmar Government. Norway is assisting the Ministry of Energy and Electric Power with capacity building through assistance from the Norwegian Directorate for Energy and Water Resources (NVE). The cooperation focuses on sustainable hydropower development, legal frameworks, hydropower standards and hydrology, and provides on-the-job training in addition to training courses provided by the International Centre for Hydropower (ICH).
Norway is a long-standing partner of Proximity Designs and supports their work to design and deliver affordable income-boosting products and services to rural families. Products include sustainable irrigation products, based on solar energy.
The governments of Norway and Myanmar have embarked on a dialogue to establish an Oil for Development Program. Many activities are underway. The program will include capacity building within Myanmar’s Ministry of Energy and Electricity, Finance and Revenue and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation, focusing on issues related to resource-, revenue- and environmental management within the petroleum sector. Government accountability and civil society engagement are important aspects of the program. Norway also supports the EITI process, and the Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI).
Environment and climate change
Environmental conservation has been a priority for Norwegian development cooperation with Myanmar since early days.
The visit to Norway by the then Union Minister of Environmental Conservation and Forestry marked the beginning of an institutional cooperation program between the two countries. The program focuses on building capacity within the Government on biodiversity and protected area management, integrated water resource management, and hazardous waste.
Another important component of the Norway-Myanmar cooperation on environmental issues is the ongoing efforts to conserve and rehabilitate the beautiful Inle Lake in Shan State. The lake is severely threatened by environmental degradation and rehabilitation requires concerted efforts by all stakeholders.
Norway provides support to the Government in its efforts to safeguard natural heritage in Myanmar within the World Heritage framework, through cooperation with UNESCO.
Myanmar joined the UN-REDD Programme in 2011. With support from Norway, Myanmar developed a roadmap for reducing deforestation and forest degradation in 2013. In 2015, Myanmar started targeted implementation of the roadmap with support from the UN-REDD Programme. The Ministry of National Resources and Environmental Conservation (MONREC) will launch a national UN-REDD program in 2017. Find more information at the REDD+ in Myanmar website.
Norway also supports efforts to reduce deforestation in Myanmar through grants to civil society organizations and international organizations. Civil Society grantees promote the establishment of community forestry areas and prevention of illegal logging and trade in timber, among other activities. See Norad’s overview of support to civil society organizations working on climate change and forest issues in Myanmar. The Embassy further supports the project “Scaling Up Community Forestry in Myanmar’ (SuComFor), implemented by RECOFTC and Myanmar’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation (MONREC).
Norway has for many years been a main contributor to UN HABITAT's work on disaster risk reduction in Myanmar, through the Cities and Urban Risk Program (CURB).
Trade and commerce
In January 2012, the Norwegian Government, as one of the first in Europe, decided that it would no longer urge Norwegian companies to refrain from trade and investment in Myanmar. A dynamic, vibrant private sector is critical for long-term, sustainable poverty eradication, as it creates value and broadly based wealth, tax revenues, and productive jobs. Trade and foreign investments will have both immediate and long-term benefits, strengthening local capacity and fostering local competition.
Norway attaches great importance to the principles of decent work, corporate social responsibility, and environmental sustainability. Norwegian companies operating abroad can have a positive impact, for example by setting high standards for corporate conduct that can be followed by local companies. The long-standing support to the Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business has been one of Norway’s key initiatives in this regard.
Norway also wishes to seek out new opportunities for Myanmar to develop and create secure livelihoods and jobs. In this regard, Norway is launching its Fish for Development Program which will strengthen fisheries management and promote marine aquaculture as a new industry.
The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs continuously works towards promoting and supporting Norwegian businesses abroad. In line with Norwegian foreign policy, the Embassy focuses specifically on companies working within the renewable energy sector. Through an integrated approach with Innovation Norway and the newly established Norway-Myanmar Business Council (NMBC), the Embassy aims to provide a comprehensive chain of services to Norwegian companies operating in Myanmar. The Embassy’s primary role in this respect is to function as a platform for dialogue between Norwegian companies, Myanmar authorities and local partners. Funding has been provided to NMBC to develop a comprehensive business guide, which was published in January 2016.