The Irrawaddy Business Roundup (March 29, 2014)

By William Boot 29 March 2014

Norway’s Statoil Hints at 250 Million Barrels Potential in Offshore Block

Norwegian government-controlled oil company Statoil has estimated that the Burmese offshore deep-water block it has won a license to develop has more than 250 million barrels of oil or gas equivalent.

The 2,000-meters deep AD-10 block in the Bay of Bengal the Norwegians have acquired in a joint venture with US company ConocoPhillips has “high-impact potential,” Statoil senior vice president Erling Vågnes told the industry newspaper Upstream.

“Statoil defines a ‘high impact’ discovery as bigger than 250 million barrels of oil equivalent,” Upstream reported this week after the Naypyidaw government awarded licenses to foreign firms to explore and develop 20 new blocks.

“This is a large and virtually unexplored area in a basin with a proven petroleum system and thick sedimentary deposits,” Vågnes said of the AD-10 block which is about 200 kilometers off Burma’s coast.

Foreign Private Education Businesses to Open Fee Schools in Burma

Burma is attracting investment from high-fee private international school businesses that see great potential in catering for the children of returning rich Burmese and the families of foreigners working in the country.

“Leading international schools have launched a flurry of ventures in [Burma] in a bet that the political risks of the fast-opening country’s transition will be outweighed by an economic boom and surging foreign arrivals,” said a report by London’s Financial Times.

Interest has come from the British International School (BIS), Dulwich College and Harrow International, the newspaper said this week.

BIS plans to open the first stage in August of what will become a 1,000-pupil school with US$20,000 per year fees.

The Financial Times quoted a director of the British Schools Foundation, Ola Natvig, saying large foreign firms planning to invest in Burma all face a “real problem bringing people over to staff operations…and a key challenge is schools.”

Dulwich College International and Harrow International Management Services are planning to initially partner with Yoma Strategic Holdings, owned by Burmese entrepreneur Serge Pun, said the paper.

“The British International School plans to start in August with 100-150 pupils. It will have a purpose-built campus in two years and expects to expand to more than 1,000 students a few years after that. As well as the US$19,300 annual fees, parents will pay a US$5,000 enrolment charge,” it reported.

Burma Part of Mekong Region Cross-Border Tourism Routes Promotion

Burma is to be part of a Mekong region joint tourism promotion being organized by the Tourist Authority of Thailand (TAT).

The Thai state agency said it will work with the Mekong Coordinating Office to develop and promote six land tour routes linking the four countries adjoining the Mekong River—Thailand, Burma, Cambodia and Laos, the travel trade magazine TTR Weekly said.

The tours will link northern Thailand with its neighbors, highlighting historic and scenic sights and promoting hotels and other facilities.

“There is still a lot of work ahead to tap the region’s full potential, but we are confident that the spirit of cooperation will prevail [and] create more jobs, income and contribute to alleviation of poverty,” the governor of TAT, Thawatchai Arunyik said in a statement announcing the scheme.

“There is no doubt that travel and tourism will remain a major pillar of sub-regional economic, social and cultural development for many years into the future.”

NGOs Reject Thai Survey of Migrant Labor Conditions as Inaccurate

Human rights groups and activists have rejected as inaccurate a study of the Thai seafood-processing industry which concluded there was no child abuse or forced labor among migrant workers, who are mostly Burmese.

The survey by Chulalongkorn University Institute of Asian Studies in Bangkok said it found no evidence of employer misconduct or intimidation and no duping of migrant workers at 13 factories in five provinces, The Nation newspaper reported.

It said children working in the industry were doing so willing by lying about their age.

However, activist Andy Hall, a former researcher working for Mahidol University’s Institute for Population and Social Research, said the survey had been paid for by the Thai fishery and marine processed-food sectors and workers had been interviewed in factories within sight of their bosses.

The Labour Rights Promotion Network Foundation described the study as “not entirely true.”

Labor rights NGOs have repeatedly alleged abuse in the industry against Burmese such as forced long hours of working, confiscation of identity documents and illegal charges taken out of wages.

New Road in Karen State to Improve Border Trade With Thailand

A new stretch of road in Karen State is being funded by Thailand to help improve cross-border trade with Burma and provide another segment of the so-called east-west transport corridor, a report said.

The 50-kilometer road is between Kawkareik and Thingan Nyinaung linking with the border crossing at Myawaddy and Mae Sot in Thailand, said the Myanmar Engineers Council, quoted by Eleven Media.

The new road, scheduled to be completed in 2015, is meant to form part of an east-west corridor intended to eventually improve trade links between the countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and India, said council secretary Aung Myint.