Burma to Hold Investment Summit, as President Vows Further Reforms

By The Irrawaddy 19 June 2012

Representatives from more than 250 foreign companies are expected to attend Burma’s first-ever investment summit on Wednesday, a day after President Thein Sein vowed a “second wave of reforms” aimed at improving the country’s economy.

The two-day New Myanmar Investment Summit 2012, organized by Singapore-based CMT, will focus on forming successful joint ventures under a new foreign investment law that Thein Sein said in a nationally televised speech on Tuesday would soon be enacted by Parliament.

The agenda will also include sessions on investment prospects in a variety of sectors, including agriculture, business, construction, infrastructure and banking and finance. Updates on Burma’s key extractive industries will also be provided by representatives from the mining and energy ministries.

Dr Kan Zaw, the deputy minister of the Ministry of National Planning and Economic Development, will deliver the opening address, while Aung Naing Oo, from the same ministry, will give a keynote address on “The New Investment Law and Its Opportunities for Foreign Investors.”

The event seeks to introduce foreign companies keen to establish joint ventures or partnerships in Burma to local industry players, entrepreneurs, agents and distributors, and will feature a post-conference workshop on structuring joint ventures and agency and distribution agreements under the new investment law, led by Alessio Polastri, founder of the Cambodia-based legal firm P&A Asia.

The event comes as Burma’s government, which last year introduced major currency reforms, signaled plans to step up the pace of its overhaul of the economy on the heels of the suspension of economic and other sanctions by Western countries.

“From this year onwards, we are working on a second wave of reforms which will focus especially on the development of the country and the public,” said Thein Sein in speech that was broadcast live on Tuesday morning.

It also comes amid lingering doubts about whether the government has the political will to carry out more far-reaching reforms that would substantially loosen its control over the economy, which remains dominated by corporations linked to the army and a handful of military cronies.

During a visit to Thailand earlier this month to attend the World Economic Forum on East Asia, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi warned international investors to be wary of “reckless optimism” about Burma’s economic prospects.

Now in Europe, Suu Kyi has repeated her calls to would-be investors to wait until conditions have improved and there are mechanisms in place to ensure that the influx of foreign funds doesn’t merely add to already rampant corruption.

“Transparency is the key. Without transparency, there can be no accountability. And unless there is transparency, we can never tell whether these investments are going to benefit the people or just help  the already privileged few,” she said in an interview with the BBC in London.

“I would be happy to see ethical responsible investment,” she added.