The Federal Republic of Germany agreed to establish diplomatic relations with what was then the Union of Myanmar in 1954. The GDR opened a diplomatic mission in Rangoon (now officially called Yangon) in 1973, after previously maintaining a trade mission there from 1954 onwards.
Prior to the suppression of the democracy movement in 1988, Germany’s substantial development assistance was a key element in its relations with Burma (known as Myanmar since 1989).
The political events of August 1988 and the human rights violations in Myanmar, culminating in the bloody suppression of the mass protests in September 2007, severely strained relations between Germany and Myanmar. Beginning in 1990, the European Union imposed restrictive measures on the country, which from 1996 onwards were subsumed under its Common Position on Burma/Myanmar.
The opening of the country in 2011 and the lifting of the EU sanctions in April 2013 (with the exception of the arms embargo) have led to bilateral relations being normalised and intensified again. During his official visit to Myanmar from 9 to 12 February 2014, then Federal President Joachim Gauck met, among others, President Thein Sein, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and representatives of civil society. Aung San Suu Kyi visited Berlin in April 2014, holding talks with, among others, Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel, Federal President Gauck and then German Bundestag President Norbert Lammert. President Thein Sein paid his first official visit to Germany in September 2014. Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development Gerd Müller travelled to Myanmar in June 2016.
Economic relations between Myanmar and Germany stagnated at a low level from the 1990s onwards, but trade has grown rapidly since the country opened up, primarily as a result of increased imports. In 2018, German exports to Myanmar were worth just under 122 million euros, compared with 131 million euros in 2014, while German imports from Myanmar stood at nearly 858 million euros in 2015, compared with 101 million euros in 2014, thus making Germany Myanmar’s principal trading partner in the EU, according to the Federal Statistical Office. Germany’s main imports from Myanmar are clothing. Its principal exports to the country are machinery, electrical and optical equipment, and pharmaceutical products. Hermes export credit guarantees have been available since August 2012. A large German wholesaler opened a major distribution centre, primarily for hotel and restaurant goods, in a special economic zone outside Yangon in March 2019.
The Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry has had a Representative of German Industry and Trade (RGIT) in Yangon since November 2013. The RGIT office was officially opened on 11 February 2014 during Federal President Gauck’s visit to Myanmar.
So far, there is no investment protection agreement or double taxation agreement between Germany and Myanmar. The European Union has been negotiating with Myanmar since 2014 on the conclusion of an investment protection agreement. However, these talks are currently suspended.
Development cooperation and humanitarian assistance
Since the late 1960s, Myanmar has been one of the most important partner countries for German development cooperation. Particularly in the 1970s and 1980s, support was provided to a large number of businesses and institutions, some of which are still operating today.
Official bilateral development cooperation was suspended between 1989 and 2011, although small, non‑official measures continued during this period. Germany also regularly awarded scholarships enabling Myanmar nationals to study or receive training in Germany. Since 2002, non‑governmental organisations, including church‑affiliated organisations, have stepped up their engagement.
In the past, Myanmar has repeatedly received support through humanitarian and emergency assistance measures (for example in the wake of Tropical Cyclone Nargis and the floods in the summer of 2015).
Official development cooperation was resumed in summer 2012. An agreement on debt relief and rescheduling was signed on 10 February 2014 during Federal President Gauck’s visit to the country.
Bilateral development cooperation in the priority area of sustainable economic development supports projects involving the provision of funding to small and medium‑sized enterprises, vocational training and the general promotion of trade and industry. Germany is the country’s second largest foreign donor, after Japan.
In addition to bilateral projects, Germany supports various UNICEF, UNODC, UNFPA and UNHCR programmes as well as the UN World Food Programme (WFP).
Alongside official development cooperation, five political foundations – the Hanns Seidel Foundation, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, the Konrad‑Adenauer‑Stiftung, the Heinrich Böll Foundation and the Friedrich‑Ebert‑Stiftung – are represented in Yangon by seconded staff. Church‑affiliated and non‑governmental organisations are also active in the country. In addition, the German Embassy in Yangon works with local organisations on so‑called microprojects designed to improve the living and working conditions of the poorer section of the country’s Population.
The issuing of a joint declaration with Myanmar’s Ministry of Culture during the visit to the country by Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office Cornelia Pieper in September 2012 paved the way for the reopening of the Goethe-Institut, which was closed in 1965, in Myanmar and for greater academic and scientific exchange between the two countries. Myanmar’s Minister of Culture visited Germany on 7 March 2013. On 15 July 2013, during a further visit to Myanmar by Minister of State Pieper, she and Myanmar’s Deputy Minister of Culture Daw Myint Kyu signed a bilateral cultural agreement. This was followed by the signing of a letter of intent in late September 2013 on the restoration of a historical building in the centre of Yangon that is now the premises of the Goethe‑Institut. Thomas Oppermann, Vice‑President of the German Bundestag, opened the new Goethe‑Institut premises at a ceremony held on 11 June 2018.
Every year, some 15 to 25 scientists and academics from Myanmar visit Germany for study or research purposes. The programme is to be continued, perhaps at another university in Myanmar. There are currently five cooperation agreements between higher education institutions in Germany and Myanmar, with several other agreements in the pipeline. Long‑term lecturers from the German Academic Exchange Service worked at the University of Yangon from October 2012 to January 2015. The programme is to be continued, perhaps at another university in Myanmar.
The annual European Film Festival in Yangon, which is organised in cooperation with Germany’s EU partners, is a long-standing cultural event.
German is spoken by some 1600 citizens of Myanmar and is taught only at the German faculties of the Universities of Foreign Languages (UFL) in Yangon and Mandalay. The DAAD lecturer post in Yangon will be filled in autumn 2018 after being vacant for a longer time.
This text is intended as a source of basic information. It is regularly updated. No liability can be accepted for the accuracy or completeness of its Contents.
A precious artefact from Myanmarhas, for the first time ever, been presented to the public as a 3D scan: the Golden Letter from King Alaungphaya of Burma to King George II of Great Britain. The project was financed from the Cultural Preservation Programme of the Federal Foreign Office.