Economic Overview 

Burma is largely an agricultural economy. Agriculture, livestock, fisheries, and forestry account for 40-50 percent of GDP, and around 70 percent of Burma’s population relies on these sectors for their livelihoods. Beans and pulses, rice, timber, and marine products are the primary agricultural exports. Burma's mining, oil and gas, and energy sectors also supply significant exports, though revenues are opaque. The manufacturing and service sectors remain undeveloped. The informal economy is very large and includes activities from currency trading to education to commodity trade. Unrecorded border trade is very common along all of Burma’s borders.

Growth is picking up in Burma. The IMF estimated 6.5 percent GDP growth in 2012-13 with a forecast of 6.75 percent growth in 2013-14, driven largely by commodity exports and foreign investment. According to Burma's Central Statistical Organization (CSO), Burma ran a trade surplus in 2011-2012 of US$810 million. The largest export by value was natural gas (from two offshore foreign-operated production sites), followed by teak and hardwood, pulses and beans, marine products, garments, metals and ores, and various other agricultural products.

Nevertheless, poor policymaking, lack of rule of law, a heretofore stunted banking system, inadequate infrastructure, and a weak education system hold back economic growth in Burma. Although the Burmese government has undertaken important macroeconomic reforms, detailed information on new legislation or implementing regulations is opaque and often unavailable. The country’s abundant natural resources have kept production in the extractive sectors on a generally upward path, though far below potential. Production in historically strong sectors such as agriculture, fisheries, and forestry has been flat or declining due to a combination of underinvestment, low productivity, restrictive government policies, and poor macroeconomic conditions. 

Other challenges include: demand for well-educated and trained workers outstrips supply; government ministers and their staff are overwhelmed due to the spike in interest from foreign governments, NGOs, and multinational businesses; real-estate prices have tripled, and Burma’s small number of hotels means that it can be extremely difficult to find accommodation - even with rates that verge on the exorbitant. 

Burma’s major trading partners are Thailand, Singapore, China, India, Malaysia, Japan, and South Korea. In 2012, the United States exported US$67.8 million worth of products to Burma, a 39 percent increase from 2011. Major U.S. exports to Burma were electrical machinery, cereals, optical and medical instruments, vehicles, and other machinery and miscellaneous items. The U.S. did not import any products from Burma in 2012 due to import sanctions which were relaxed in November that year. In the first four months of 2013, imports from Burma rose to US$3.7 million.