Burma Business Roundup (Saturday, Feb. 2)

By William Boot 2 February 2013

Norwegian Oil Major in Talks with Potential Burmese Partner

The first big Western oil company has made a move to bid for a license to explore for gas and oil in Burma’s coastal waters.

Norwegian government-linked Statoil is in talks with Burma’s Ministry of Energy and has also approached the country’s biggest private industry operator, MRPL E&P, as a possible partner.

It’s understood that Statoil, whose majority shareholder is the Oslo government, is not interested in the 18 onshore blocks which have just been put up for license by Burma.

“Burma is back on the company’s radar screen due to the political shift and has further confirmed delegations from the company have visited the country several times recently,” the industry magazine Upstream reported, citing Statoil spokesman Baard Pedersen.

MRPL E&P chief executive Michael Moe Myint was quoted by Norwegian newspaper DN as saying he had been approached by Statoil.

A planned auction of up to 20 offshore blocks in the second half of last year was postponed after widespread criticism of the continued involvement in the local industry of military-linked Myanma Oil & Gas Enterprise. No new auction date has been announced yet.

Major Singapore Firm in Burma Tourism Promotion

A business conference to promote tourism in Burma is to take place in Rangoon later this month, organized by Singapore’s government-linked media monopoly.

The main conference partner is Burma’s Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, along with Sphere Conferences, a subsidiary of Singapore Press Holdings.

It will provide a “gateway for investors, owners, developers and operators of hospitality and tourism products to explore, evaluate and capitalize on the opportunities available in Asia’s last frontier”, said Sphere.

The conference is scheduled for Feb. 26-28, ahead of a major regional tourism summit planned in Thailand by the Pacific Asia Travel Association, or PATA.

Burma is attracting record numbers of holiday visitors but the industry is being hampered by an accommodation shortage and poor internal transport.

One of the purposes of the conference will be to “identify business gaps that need immediate attention,” Sphere chairman Chua Wee Phong said in a statement.

Japan to Give $220 Million in Infrastructure Aid from April

Japan is to give Burma additional aid of US $220 million for “infrastructure projects and human resources development,” Japanese media said.

The money will be made available from April and is on top of a multi-billion dollar debt write-off and other grants.

“Japan is planning to take a leading role in the development of resource-rich Myanmar [Burma] by extending fresh loans, reported NHK radio.

One of Burma’s most pressing problems hindering economic development is a dilapidated infrastructure, such as poor electricity supply and bad roads and transportation.

A conference in Rangoon on energy issues this week involving major potential investors such as Siemens of Germany concluded that Burma will need long-term commitment to bringing its electricity generating and distribution system into the 21st century.

There were no quick fixes for this sector, said a conclusion summary by co-organizers CMT of Singapore.

World Bank’s Burma Debt Waiver ‘Could Spur Dawei Project’

The decision by the World Bank to cancel Burma’s old debts, accrued by the former military regimes, will benefit the whole of Southeast Asia and especially Thailand, a leading regional economist said.

The write off of billions of dollars could be the spur to bring in investment for the stalled port and special economic zone at Dawei on Burma’s southeast coast and will trigger more cross-border financial transactions, said Surachart Bamrungsuk of Bangkok’s prominent Chulalongkorn University.

“Thailand with its geo-political location would certainly benefit from the logistical windfall and increased transactions between the world and [Burma],” Surachart was quoted by the Bangkok Post as saying.

The Thai government is trying to kick-start the Dawei project, which was originally proposed by major Thai construction firm Italian-Thai Development, but has languished for lack of financial support on uncertainty about financial guarantees.

Thailand has also proposed the creation of a new special economic zone on its border with Burma at Mae Sot, the main land trade point between the two countries.

“The bank’s engagement, together with the [Asian Development Bank], the government of Japan and other partners, will help attract investment, spur growth and create jobs,” said the World Bank’s representative in Burma, Annette Dixon.

The Asian Development Bank is behind promotion of an east-west trade and communications corridor for Southeast Asia as part of so-called growth circles for the region.