Myanmar has had a civilian government since March 2011 that has initiated various reforms aimed at greater political and economic openness. Switzerland supports this political shift and has stepped up its development cooperation in Myanmar. It opened an embassy in Yangon in October 2012. Trade relations between the two countries began to intensify following the gradual opening up of the country.
Myanmar is in the midst of a far-reaching transformation. It was ruled by an authoritarian military government for almost 50 years before opening up to the rest of the world in 2010. The first elections in 20 years were held, and the opposition leader and Noble Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest. In 2011, the military government formally transferred its official functions to a civilian one. The changeover from military to civilian rule was completed in 2011, when former General U Thein Sein was sworn in as president.
Key aspects of diplomatic relations
Through its Myanmar 2013–2017 cooperation strategy, Switzerland is supporting the transition process and development in Myanmar. That support aims, among other objectives, to strengthen bilateral relations between the two countries. The Regional Consular Centre in Bangkok (Thailand) still handles all consular matters.
Since the opening of the embassy in Yangon in 2012, a number of high-level meetings have taken place between Swiss and Burmese representatives. President U Thein Sein was the country’s first head of state to pay an official visit to Switzerland in September 2014.
In 2012, member of parliament and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi began her first tour of Europe in 24 years in Switzerland.
Media release, 05.09.2014 (Switzerland and Myanmar strengthen relations)
Media release, 01.06.2012 (Aung San Suu Kyi to visit Switzerland)
Myanmar's transformation prompted Switzerland in May 2012 to lift most of the sanctions that had been imposed for human rights violations, although the embargo on arms and instruments of repression remains in place. Trade with Myanmar is at a low level, but is growing. Swiss exports in 2013 totalled CHF 8.52 million, comprising mainly chemical and pharmaceutical products, optical and medical instruments, and machinery. Imports from Myanmar during the same period amounted to CHF 13.64 million, mostly textiles and furniture but also precious stones and precious metals.
State Secretariat for Economic Affairs: sanctions against Myanmar (de, fr, it)
Trade promotion (Switzerland Global Enterprise)
Cooperation in the domain of education
Scholars and artists from Myanmar can apply for scholarships to the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI) and for Swiss Government Excellence Scholarships.
SERI: Swiss Government Excellence Scholarships for foreign scholars and artists
Deutschsprachige Schule Bangkok (de, en)
Development co-operation and humanitarian aid
The SDC’s Humanitarian Aid Department has been active in Myanmar since 1994. Since 2012 its humanitarian work has been complemented by a development cooperation programme supporting the transition to democracy, peacebuilding and the fight against poverty in the following four areas:
- Employment and vocational training
- Agriculture and food security
- Health, social services and local governance
- Peacebuilding, democratisation and protection of the civilian population
In geographical terms the focus is on the south-east of the country.
Development cooperation and humanitarian aid
Swiss nationals in Myanmar
At the end of 2015 there were 132 Swiss nationals living in Myanmar.
History of bilateral relations
Myanmar (Burma) was a British colony from 1885 to 1948. Immediately after gaining its independence, it was recognised as a state by Switzerland. Switzerland and Myanmar have maintained diplomatic relations since 1956. An honorary consulate was located in the capital city Rangoon (now Yangon) from 1957 to 1965. In 2012, the Swiss Federal Council opened an embassy in Yangon in response to Myanmar's opening up to the world and democratic transition. The country has been called Myanmar since 1989.
It is rich in natural resources. It was the most prosperous country in South East Asia at the time of its independence in 1948 and the largest producer and exporter of rice up until the 1950s. If the economic upswing it has been experiencing since it opened up to the world continues, Myanmar could once again become a key economic centre.
Media release, 06.06.2012 (Switerland to open embassy in Myanmar)
Historical Dictionary of Switzerland: Myanmar (de, fr, it)