The Irrawaddy Business Roundup (Dec. 20, 2014)

By William Boot 20 December 2014

Labor Rights Improve in Burma but Deteriorate in Thailand: Survey

Thailand has suffered one of the world’s worst declines in human rights in 2014, especially when it comes to Burmese migrant workers.

An annual survey of 198 countries by business risk analysts Verisk Maplecroft places Thailand in the top ten most “extreme risk” economies—alongside North Korea, Afghanistan, Pakistan and civil-war torn Ukraine.

Burma is also still ranked as an extreme risk but has made improvements and drops out of the worst top ten, the Human Rights Risk Atlas 2015 said.

“Human rights risk remains extreme [in Burma] due to working conditions that fall below regional and international standards,” Verisk Maplecroft said. “Nevertheless, [Burma] has demonstrated progress in improving human rights protections. Reflecting a commitment to improve governance and address labor rights violations, the government has been working closely with the International Labour Organization to combat forced labour.”

Verisk Maplecroft’s separate Political Risk Atlas 2015 has meanwhile taken Burma out of the “extreme risk” category for the first time since 2008, but says that a continuing concern for foreign investors is the military control over the reform process.

The Human Rights Risk Atlas 2015 said it “attributes violations committed by state security forces against opposition groups following the May 2014 military coup as a key driver of Thailand’s downgraded position.”

An unverified number of legal and illegal economic migrants work in Thailand, estimated by various agencies to be between 2-4 million, and most of them are Burmese. Tens of thousands of Cambodian workers left the country after the coup, alleging harassment by the Army.

British human rights activist Andy Hall faces charges of criminal defamation in Thailand brought by fruit juice exporter Natural Fruit. He wrote a report alleging the firm commits violence against employees, enforces overtime, uses child labor and confiscates Burmese passports to prevent workers leaving.

Hall faces up to seven years imprisonment under Thai law if found guilty.

Surge in Tourist Numbers ‘Poses Quality of Service Problems’

The sharp increase in the number of tourists visiting Burma may be undermining the quality of service visitors receive, an industry report said.

The Myanmar Tourism Federation has estimated that 2014 may have hit a record number of 3 million visitors.

But regional tourism industry newspaper TTR Weekly there was signs that the rapid growth in tourism is “having a negative impact on service delivery and causing prices to rise to a level that increased complaints.”

Visitor numbers have surged from approximately 300,000 tourists in 2009, putting a strain on sector services, said TTR Weekly.

Tourism has become a major revenue stream, rising from US$534 million generated in the 2011-12 financial year to an expected US$905 million in this current financial year, said the paper.

“The Ministry of Hotels and Tourism is drafting a tourism development plan and tourism is a priority sector in the export strategy of the Ministry of Commerce,” TTR Weekly said.

Natural Gas Export Revenues Increase by 22%

National income from natural gas exports has increased by US$585 million in this financial year up to the end of November, Burma’s Ministry of Commerce said.

The rise is 22 percent more than for the same period of the 2013-2014 financial year.

Total income from gas exports in the April-November period was US$2.64 billion, said Myanmar Business today quoting ministry figures.

“[Burma] exports its natural gas to neighbouring Thailand and China. Gas exports to Thailand started in 1999, and have since grown to consume 70% of the total production,” the report said.

Despite the higher export sales, more gas is being funnelled into domestic use, the ministry said. This includes an increase in the number of roadside stations supplying natural gas vehicles to 45, most of them in Rangoon Division.

There are more than 27,700 registered natural gas-fuelled vehicles in the country, of which 26,835 are based in greater Rangoon, ministry figures showed.

EU Gives Burma US$860 Million to Boost Farming, Health, Education

The European Union has made a grant of 700 million euros (US$860 million) for “initiatives for the benefit of all people”.

The money, to be provided in tranches up to 2020, is primarily aimed at improving lives in rural Burma as well as “peace building” processes.

“The EU wants its funding to develop rural areas and support agriculture including improving food supplies, nutrition, while also providing support for education, good governance, and the rule of law,” the EU Bulletin said, quoting an unnamed Brussels official.

Brussels said Burma would receive the funding from the end of 2014 to 2020 for efforts to stabilize the country’s economy and promote peace agreements between ethnic armed groups and the Burmese government.

Burmese Tourism Firm Plans Thailand Exchange Listing

A Burmese tourism industry company is reportedly planning to list on the Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET).

The listing, to raise funds for expansion, will be possible after new rules for the SET to provide easier access for foreign firms are introduced next February, the Bangkok Post said.

The Burmese firm, which was not named, is being advised by Bangkok-based Twin Pine Consulting, the Post said. It is expected to have a “market capitalisation of 10 billion baht (US$303 million).

“As a firm focusing on capital market development among GMS [Greater Mekong Sub-region] countries, we look for opportunities on cross border fund raising, and [Burma] is in our plan,” Twin Pine’s Laorpan Wangitthi told The Irrawaddy.

However, the Twin Pine declined to name any Burmese firms.

Relaxation of SET rules for foreign businesses is part of the Thai finance ministry’s plans to make Thailand a regional center for fund raising, the Post said.