Burma Business Roundup (Oct. 19)

By William Boot 19 October 2013

Massive Nickel Mining Project ‘to Produce 85,000 tons Per Year’

The long delayed US$800 million nickel mining project north of Mandalay to be financed by Chinese state enterprises is moving closer to a start-up, according to reports.

The Ministry of Mines said in a statement on Wednesday that its main partner, the China Nonferrous Metals Mining Company (CNMC), was already carrying out tests in the Tagaung area of Sagaing Division.

The project, which will scar pristine rainforests and disrupt numerous villages, aims to eventually produce 85,000 tons of ferro-nickel per year, Eleven Media said.

It has been under discussion since 2004.

The 20-year project will involve construction of a smelter, most likely fueled by coal or coke, to separate the nickel from mined ore rock.

Gold Production Up Despite Mines Disruption in Kachin, Karen States

Burma’s partially shut down gold mining industry is still expected to deliver nearly 500 kilograms of the precious metal this year—double the 2012 production, said a government official.

The increase is due to higher output at Yamaethin in Mandalay Division and Kalaw in Shan State, said Aye Zaw, a director at the Ministry of Mining.

Production would be much higher if fighting in Kachin and Karen states had not forced the closure of almost 350 mines, Aye Zaw was quoted by the Myanmar Times as saying.

He said 190 mines had shut in Kachin State and nearly 150 in Karen State.

International Tourism Conference to Focus on Burma’s Emergence

Burma’s emergence as a fashionable new travel destination is to feature prominently at a major international tourism conference in Singapore.

More than 8,000 tourism-linked visitors will take part in the three-day gathering from Oct. 23-25, said the Bangkok-based industry newspaper TTR Weekly.

One major delegate at the gathering will be the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA), which will hold workshop sessions on key growth markets in Asia, including Burma and China, said TTR Weekly.

“As a global melting pot for the travel industry, we recognize the importance of taking the lead in delivering the latest industry insights to keep our partners at the forefront of travel,” the executive director of conference organizers ITB Asia, Nino Gruettke, told the paper.

Visitors to Burma topped one million in a year in 2012 for the first time, but the Ministry of Transport and the Department of Civil Aviation is forecasting annual increases rising to 6 million visitors in 2017.

Lao Airlines Delays Rangoon Service for a Year to ‘Prepare Business’

Lao Airlines has postponed the start of direct flights between Vientiane and Rangoon for one year, saying it needs more time for promotion.

The airline announced the new route in April and was due to begin a city-to-city service this month. Lao Airlines last flew regularly to Rangoon in the 1980s.

“We are re-establishing an air link between the two cities to open doors for investors and tourists,” the airline’s commercial director, Saleum Tayarath, told the Bangkok tourism news service TTR Weekly in April.

However, the airline’s commercial director Manivone Lattanavong told the Vientiane Times that it was aiming at a Chinese tourist market and needed to fit in with travel agents’ one-year forward planning schedules.

Lao Airlines is due to begin flights between Vientiane and the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh in November.

Rangoon International Airport clocked almost 500,000 arrivals in 2012 out of a total of 600,000 people coming into the country by air, according to government figures, but the figure could double for 2013.

Big Hydroelectric Dam on Salween to Supply Thailand Changes Its Name

A massive hydroelectric dam project on the Salween River planned by a Thai state firm to supply electricity to Thailand has acquired a new name in an apparent attempt to deflect public opposition, a report said.

The Tasang dam, to be built on the Salween in Shan State, has suddenly started being called Mai Tong by the Thai Ministry of Energy, said the NGO Burma Rivers Network (BRN).

Five Burmese civil society groups attending a Bangkok public meeting on Tuesday appealed to the Thai government to abandon its hydro-dam plans on the Salween “where militarization, conflict and human rights abuses are continuing despite current ceasefires,” BRN reported.

“Out of six Salween dams approved this year by the Burmese government, the Mai Tong and the Hat Gyi dam in Karen State will export power to Thailand. Other dams are planned to export power to China, despite the continuing lack of electricity throughout Burma,” said BRN.

The Tasang dam is being back by the Thai government-controlled Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, or EGAT.

Burma’s Military Leaders ‘Profit Enormously’ from Economic Reforms

The Burmese military hierarchy is interested in economic reforms, not democratic reforms, because it enables them to “profit enormously” from land and natural resources, a large group of NGOs said in a statement to three Western governments.

The NGOs, representing 15 ethnic communities in Burma, have urged the US, British and Australian governments to reconsider plans to work with the Burmese military and provide human rights training among other aid.

“The Burmese military does not commit human rights abuses accidentally, out of ignorance. The Burmese military leadership orders their officers and soldiers to violate human rights in order to control property and resources,” said the statement issued via the Burma Campaign UK group.

“The main reforms in which the military is interested are economic reforms, not democratic reforms. This prioritization greatly benefits the Burmese military leadership, whose large economic interests and holdings ensure they profit enormously from seizing our land and resources, said the statement sent to US President Barack Obama, UK Prime Minister David Cameron and Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott.