Burma Business Roundup (Saturday, July 14)

By William Boot 14 July 2012

Mines Ministry Offers One-to-One ‘Consultation’ for Foreign Investors

Burma’s Ministry of Mines is offering one-to-one “consultation sessions” with potential private investors during a two-day mining “summit” in Rangoon later this month.

The organizers of the mining investment promotion forum, which will be attended by Minister of Mines Thein Htike and other senior ministry officials, are offering 20-minute personal meetings.

One private meeting per company will be allowed and “priority will be given to the companies signing for the bundle deals,” said co-organizing firm Center for Management Technology (CMT).

Singapore-based CMT declined to explain what bundle deals are but on its website says: “The 1st official summit organised by CMT and Myanmar’s Ministry of Mines, is the only [their emphasis] platform for global and regional miners, investors, local and overseas stakeholders who seek resource investment, exploration and mine development opportunities in this fast emerging mining hot spot.”

CMT said on July 12 that more than 200 participants from over 22 countries have already registered for the three-day forum to be held July 22-25.

The forum will be opened by Thein Htike and will also feature Aung Naing Oo, director-general of the Directorate of Investment and Company Administration, which among other functions is responsible for “scrutinizing and appraisal of projects that are proposed for investment,” said CMT.

One of the officials listed to take part in the one-to-one consultations is Win Htein, director-general of the Ministry of Mines.

Burmese Firms Seek Watering Down of New Foreign Business Laws

Delays in approving the much-awaited foreign investment law and a major redraft of the law on special economic zones (SEZs) might be linked with lobbying by Burmese firms concerned that they will be disadvantaged by overseas business.

Approval of a new law on foreign direct investment is not expected to be made before the end of July, while the revamp of the SEZ law drafted last January might not reach the statute book until the last quarter of this year, according to the latest government announcements.

The delays coincide with reports that Burmese business leaders are lobbying Parliament for amendments which protect local business from too much foreign financial muscle.

The new investment law is expected to offer tax-free incentives to foreign investors as well as 100 percent ownership of businesses. But the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI) said some natural resource development industries should be exempt from the 100 percent foreign-owned rule.

The UMFCCI said Burmese firms will not be able to compete with the more advanced technology and capital funding of foreign businesses.

Other Burmese have complained to parliamentary representatives that a proposed five-year tax exemption for foreign companies would be an unfair advantage over local businesses, especially in such sectors as construction.

In a petition to the speaker of the lower legislative house, the Pyithu Hluttaw, the chairman of the Dagon Seikkan Industrial Zone said some industries should be restricted to joint ventures in which the foreign partner held no more than a 49 percent share. This was common practice in a number of other Asean countries, said Aye Lwin.

US Trade Officials Visit Burma as Washington Gives Green Light on MOGE

Two Washington government trade officials are visiting Burma this weekend as the United States government decides to allow US energy exploration companies to do business with the state-controlled Myanmar Oil & Gas Enterprise (MOGE).

The Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth Robert Hormats and the Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade Francisco Sanchez will be in Naypyidaw and Rangoon on July 14-15.

Hormats will fly to Burma after consultations with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who is attending a US-Asean Business Council meeting in Cambodia as Washington seeks to strengthen its trade and political relations with the 10-country bloc of which Burma is a member.

Clinton, who in May said US companies would not be permitted to do business with any military-linked Burmese enterprises, will not visit Burma during her Southeast Asian tour.

MOGE is seen by most outside observers and analysts as a dubious, unaccountable state agency which through the junta years was closely linked with Burma’s military leaders and their murky business activities in oil and gas.

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in June urged international business not to do deals with MOGE until it had been reformed and held accountable for its activities.

Under new investment rules tied to Washington’s suspension of sanctions, US companies can now sign agreements with MOGE but must report their activities to the US government.

Japanese Equipment Aid for Dams and Health

The Japanese government is providing approximately US $30 million worth of equipment aid to Burma, the national planning ministry said.

Half of the aid will be “assistance for the construction of dams in the Irrawaddy Delta region up to 2015,” according to Deputy Minister for Planning and Economic Development Kan Zaw, who was quoted in the government-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper.

It’s not been disclosed what form of delta dam work is planned with the equipment but it is probably connected with irrigation.

The rest of the aid package being provided by the Japan International Cooperation Agency will be medical equipment.

In May, Japanese companies agreed to invest in renovation work on aging hydroelectric dams in northwest Burma, where the major Myitsone hydro dam project has been suspended on environmental grounds.

Foreign Currency Accounts on Offer from Private Banks

Private banks in Burma are planning to offer foreign currency accounts from this month. The currencies on offer will be US dollars, Singapore dollars and Euros.

Until now only state-owned banks have been permitted to provide foreign currency accounts, but pressure is growing for more banking flexibility and service to meet expanding customer demand.

New business contacts outside Burma and a growth in international events inside Burma has increased the need for more foreign currency transactions, the Central Bank of Myanmar said.

Four banks are expected to offer foreign currency accounts: the Cooperative Bank, Kanbawza Bank, Asia Green Development, the United Amara Bank, and Ayeyarwady Bank. Accounts will be available to individual as well as companies.