Burma Business Roundup (Saturday, Nov. 3)

By William Boot 3 November 2012

Long-Stay Visa Deals for Investors Proposed by Vice President

The government is considering the idea of offering permanent residence for certain categories of foreigners investing in Burma.

Lifting restrictions in staying in the country might make it easier to do business and encourage more investors, according to Vice President Nyan Tun, quoted by the New Light of Myanmar on Thursday.

Subject to conditions, he suggested that long-term residency could be offered to people investing in the agriculture, industrial and financial sectors of Burma’s economy.

The newspaper said Nyan Tun wants Parliament to set up a committee to look at the idea.

At present, a business visa to enter Burma is valid for a maximum of 70 days, after which the holder must leave. An ordinary visitor visa is valid for only 28 days.

Poppy Growing Rises Sharply as Drugs Trade Escalates

Burmese army efforts to curb the country’s poppy cultivation for opium and heroin manufacture are a failure, a United Nations report says.

Land used for poppy growing in Burma expanded by 17 percent this year to 51,000 hectares, said the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) following a survey.

It confirms that the business of drugs is thriving in the post-military regime era—as The Irrawaddy reported last week.

Poppy production has grown in spite of claims by the government that army units had destroyed nearly 24,000 hectares under cultivation in 2012.

“Despite the increase in eradication what really matters is the increase in cultivation,” the UNODC’s regional representative Gary Lewis said in Bangkok during a presentation on the agency’s South-East Asia Opium Survey 2012 on Oct. 31.

“Cultivation indicates intention. And unless the farmers have a feasible and legitimate alternative to give them food security and reduce their debt, they will continue to plant poppy.”

The survey revealed a new development over previous years: “Poppy-growing villages reported a considerably higher average household income than non-growing villages, in contrast to the previous four years.”

The UN survey also showed that opium poppy cultivation is increasing in Laos.

Poppy cultivation in Burma is mostly confined to Shan and Kachin states.

The UN findings are part of a growing and widening business of drugs in Southeast Asia, said Lewis, with methamphetamines also on the rise.

“The significant increase in opium poppy cultivation in [Burma] coupled with significant increases in trafficking in methamphetamines and other illicit drugs reflect a growing human security threat to the region,” Lewis said.

The lawless border lands of east Burma with easy access to the huge Thailand market are a major base for methamphetamines production via highly mobile mini factories.

US Leasing Firm Helps Burma’s Chief Airline Expand

The first supply of a major airliner by a Western leasing company to Myanmar Airways International (MAI) has been completed.

An Airbus A320-200 has been supplied to MAI, which is 20 percent owned by the Burmese government, by the International Lease Finance Corporation (ILFC) of Los Angeles, California.

It will be seventh such plane, carrying 150 passengers, in the MAI fleet, which is in the process of being modernized and stretched to carry more people.

The ILFC is the biggest airline-leasing company, with 1,000 aircraft in its portfolio.

“We look forward to supporting MAI’s growth and that of the aviation industry in [Burma],” said ILFC Asia Pacific chief David Nixon in a media statement.

ILFC is part of the American International Group, or AIG.

Business Development is Excuse for Continuing Farm Land Thefts

Seizure of land and forced relocation is growing in Burma in the name of business development and the national interest, a human rights organization alleges.

“Recent events, including the arrests and beatings of farmers protesting the forced relocation of landowners from 66 villages for the Letpadaung copper mine, underline the ongoing human rights violations by the Burmese government,” said the Network for Human Rights Documentation—Burma, a coalition of rights groups.

Instead of providing better protection for farmers and villagers, Burma’s new agricultural law has been used to expand land confiscation, said the network in a report published from its base in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand.

The establishment of a Land Investigation Committee by the Burmese government “has done little to alleviate concerns” by farmers and their families about land security, the report said.

ADB Wants Debt Settlement Before Investing Anew in Burma

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Burmese government have agreed to cooperate on promoting economic development in the country—subject to Burma repaying debts totaling US $500 million.

“The ADB wants to create jobs and lay the foundation for long-term economic growth,” Stephen Groff, ADB’s vice president for East Asia, Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said in a statement

Priorities include identifying urgent infrastructure investments, particularly in transport and energy. Burma lacks roads and railways which cross the borders into India, Thailand and China.

The ADB opened an office in Burma this year after an absence of 24 years and has produced several reports which identify development issues.

But before any investment and cooperative work can begin, the ADB is insisting on full repayment of Burma’s debts.