Burma Business Roundup (Saturday, March 16)

By William Boot 16 March 2013

Danish Transport, Energy Group Seeks Burma Opportunities

One of Europe’s biggest business conglomerates specializing in transport and energy, the AP Moller-Maersk Group, is to open an office in Rangoon to pursue ventures.

The Danish group’s subsidiaries already operates weekly cargo ship services in and out of Rangoon port but the firm is also noted for oil and gas exploration.

A permit to open an office in Burma will “allow us to be a part of the rapid development we will undoubtedly see in [Burma] in the coming years,” managing director of Maersk Thailand Henrik Jensen said in a statement.

One of the group subsidiaries, Maersk Line, is the world’s biggest sea container shipper and already has business links with local transport firm Win Universe Limited.

However, the group is also active in offshore exploration and production of oil and gas in other parts of the world and has branched into shipyard development and retailing.

Singapore Sees Burma as a Major Food Supplier, Says Minister

Singapore is eyeing up Burma as potential food basket to supply the city state with agricultural produce. National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said Singapore’s Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority is looking to stimulate partnerships between Singaporean firms and Burmese suppliers.

Vegetables, meat products and seafood are among supplies being consider, Khaw told Singapore’s Channel News Asia.

“Mr Khaw said while there are some concerns about lack of suitable infrastructure [Burma] holds a lot of promise,” the news agency said. “He believes that through more exchanges and transfer of technical expertise …Myanmar farmers will, over time, be able to increase their food exports to Singapore.”

Singapore has a population of only 5.1 million but is the most advanced economy in Southeast Asia with one of the most diverse cuisines in the region due to its mix of Chinese, Malays and Indians.

China Gas Pipeline across Burma Faces Difficulties, Reports Say

Doubts are being expressed in the Chinese media that the 900-km gas pipeline built by China National Petroleum Corporation through Burma will be able to begin operating in June.

The Chinese government-owned company said earlier this year that the pipeline, to carry gas from Burma’s offshore Shwe field into China, was nearly ready and testing would be carried out in February-March.

But a Beijing industry online newspaper, Energy China Forum, quoted Burmese NGOs as saying the pipeline was not connected in Shan State where it passes through ethnically troubled areas, or at Kyaukphyu on Ramree Island where the gas is landed.

The Democratic Voice of Burma said local people in Kyaukphyu are still demanding compensation for land confiscated from them for the pipe and the processing terminal, and might stage protests to stop the pipeline connection.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences told the Global Times in Beijing it anticipated that the Burmese government will demand compromises from Beijing before the pipeline is permitted to start up “because it wanted to show that it was respecting public opinion.”

A separate oil pipeline is being built alongside the gas pipe, also intended for delivery to China.

Dam Projects Proceeding ‘In Secrecy’ in Conflict Zones, Says NGO

Work on a number of hydroelectric dam projects on Burma’s rivers is “being speeded up” with military support despite local population objections, an NGO alleged.

“Plans for over 25 large dams in Burma are now being speeded up, including six on the headwaters of the Irrawaddy amidst ongoing warfare in Kachin State,” said the Burma Rivers Network in a statement on March 14. “Six dams are also proceeding on the Salween River in Shan, Karenni and Karen States, where ceasefires remain tenuous.”

The NGO it is “very concerned” that project work appears to be pushing forward in conflict areas where there is little or no outside monitoring.

“In the conflict zones along the Salween River, dam surveying and construction is being carried out in secrecy, with tight security by the Burmese military,” said the Burma Rivers Network.

Singapore Firms Hesitate to Invest Due to Lingering Military Presence

Southeast Asian computer networks installation specialist Pacific Tech said it is one of a number of companies in Singapore hesitant about investing in Burma because of the continuing involvement of the military politically and perceived risks of a coup.

“A lot of people still have reservations on whether the politics is really that stable now, or if it’s like Thailand—a military coup. You may lose your investment overnight,” Pacific Tech regional sales director Andy Woo told Channel News Asia (CNA) in a survey on investing in Burma.

“By investing in [Burma], Singapore companies can help shape the business landscape by sharing their know-how and introducing high-end quality products,” CNA said in its survey.

However, there are “lingering doubts” among a number of potential Singaporean investors concerned about stability.

Pacific Tech is one of a number of firms looking at investment but which “still harbor reservations about moving into [Burma],” the new agency said.

One Singapore firm which told CNA it is certain to set up business in Burma is property developer Soilbuild.

“Soilbuild plans to tie up with a local partner to develop luxury condominiums and service apartments in Yangon,” CNA said.