Burma Business Roundup (Saturday, March 2)

By William Boot 2 March 2013

Call by Burma’s Neighbors for Joint Energy Ventures

Joint energy initiatives including possible international exploration ventures should be considered by Burma, Bangladesh, China and India, a conference said.

After a meeting of the four countries in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, the so-called BCIM Forum issued a statement saying, “Energy security has remained a major concern for all the countries of the BCIM region and there are significant opportunities for joint initiatives in investment, exploration and cross border trade in the energy sector within the region.”

Bangladesh’s Information Minister Hasanul Haq Inu called for a summit of the heads of the states of the four countries to spearhead initiatives for closer energy cooperation.

Bangladesh like Burma suffers from acute electricity shortages which have led to street protests by workers in the country’s large textile industry. Frequent blackouts have not only damaged the export potential for textile but cut the wages of thousands of workers who are paid according to their production.

The Forum also called for a reduction in border bureaucracy to smooth trade between the four countries.

Speaker at the conference included Burma’s ambassador to Dhaka, Myo Myint Than.

Iconic Brand Ford to Begin Selling Vehicles in May

During a week when the biggest US trade delegation to visit post-reform Burma was in the country one of America’s most iconic companies announced it would set up shop.

Ford Motor Company said it will begin selling its vehicles in Burma from May in a partnership with local firm Capital Automotive, which is part of the rapidly expanding Capital Diamond Star Group.
Capital Diamond already has the franchise to sell another famous US brand, Pepsi.

Ford will market cars and pick-up trucks via Capital, the Rangoon firm said in a statement announcing the partnership.

In February, Japan’s Suzuki Motor Corporation became the first foreign manufacturer to announce it intended to produce vehicle in Burma. Suzuki will in May re-open the Rangoon production plant it operated until 2010. The factory will initially build just 100 pick-up trucks per month.

During the 15 months up to the end of January, Burma imported nearly 130,000 cars, of them second-hand.

Malaysia-Burma Trade in 2013 Forecast to Top US $1 Billion

Trade between Malaysia and Burma in 2013 is forecast to top US $1 billion for the first time, said the Malaysian state news agency Bernama.

This follows a 27 percent jump in exports to Burma by Malaysian firms in 2012, which totaled $700 million.

Overall trade between the two countries last year totaled US$884 million, said Bernama.

Further economic liberalization by Burma will be a “significant spur” to further growth in trade, Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation deputy chief executive Kamarudin Hassan told a business conference in Kuala Lumpur.

Malaysian firms invested over $1 billion in Burma in 2012 and a sector where Malaysia could expand was in providing construction services for infrastructure improvements, Kamarudin said.

“This involves the construction of roads, highways, airports and other commercial buildings. This is where Malaysian companies can create a niche for themselves, as we have some of the best infrastructure developers,” he told the conference.

New Zealand to Fund Modern Dairy Farming Program

The New Zealand government and private business is to provide more than US$70 million worth of aid in the form of training and development to help Burma establish a modern dairy farming industry.

Some of the money will be used to develop a dairy cattle breeding program, as well as production of dairy products.

An outline plan was agreed at meetings between New Zealand and Burmese government officers, the AgriBusiness Group company of Christchurch and Burma’s livestock federation.

A first phase will involve selection of a location for the breeding station followed by training, said AgriBusiness Group director Geoffrey Mavromatis.

The plan follows a visit to Burma last November by New Zealand Prime Minister John Key.

New Zealand businesses engaged in the country’s high-tech agricultural sector were particularly interested in investing in Burma, Key said then.

The large dairy products firm Fonterra already does business in Burma.

Commercial Exploitation Threatens Rivers, Say Environment NGOs

Environmental NGOs have warned of the risks to Burma’s rivers posed by uncontrolled commercial activities to extract natural resources, such as gold, and pebble and gravel mining.

Such activities endangered all the country’s rivers, said Forest Resource and Environment Development Association in response to the formation of Irrawaddy River Conservation Commission by Mandalay Region Legislative Assembly.

“Environmentalists have called for the formation of a river conservation commission to cover all [Burma’s] rivers,” said the NGO Salween Watch.

The NGOs said the newly formed Irrawaddy commission should make it a priority to campaign for the Myitsone hydro dam project to be canceled and not just suspended as at present for the duration of President Thein Sein’s presidency ending in 2015.