The Irrawaddy Business Roundup (May 17, 2014)

By William Boot 17 May 2014

UK Provides Cash to Improve Burma’s Economy ‘For All Its People’

The British government is providing financial support for the Myanmar Development Resource Institute (MDRI) as well as a £1.1 million (US$1.8 million) donation to help the country’s application to join the international Extractives Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).

The financial aid was disclosed in the London Parliament when Foreign Affairs Minister Hugo Swire was asked questions about the UK’s economic links with Burma.

These also include establishing a British trade and investment office in Burma, a Financial Services Task Force to “support the development of sound financial structures,” said Swire, and paying for two specialist economists from the International Growth Center to support the MDRI.

Aiding Burma’s qualification for membership of EITI “will help improve the transparency and accountability of the revenues from Burma’s natural resources,” Swire was quoted by Hansard, the parliamentary report service, saying on May 12.

“The [British] government is working to encourage and support Burma to remove barriers to becoming a stable, prosperous and democratic country with a sustainable economy that benefits all its people and create a positive climate for domestic, international and UK trade and investment,” Swire said.

Trade between Burma and the UK remains small, although last year saw a surge in the value of bilateral trade. Britain exported goods worth $73.8 million in 2013, a 243 percent year on year increase, said Hansard. British imports from Burma totaled $109 million, up 44 percent on 2012.

The main imports from Britain were transport equipment and road vehicles, while Burma’s highest-value export to Britain was clothing.

Growing Market in Burma ‘Cannot Be ignored’: Malaysia Trade Minister

Malaysia’s Trade and Industry Minister has urged his country’s business community to look at investing in Burma, saying the growing market “cannot be ignored.”

The state Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation (Matrade) has intensified promotional activities in Burma, said Mustapa Mohamed in a statement published by the official news agency Bernama.

Matrade and the trade ministry are concentrating on the oil and gas sector, construction, logistics, manufacturing and services, it said. In addition, Malaysia will send a maritime industry trade delegation to Burma in August as well as one dealing with cross-border trade.

Matrade will also stage two trade exhibitions in Rangoon in October.

“The Myanmar Government has been introducing a series of economic reforms, which are providing greater confidence and optimism to the business community,” Mustapha said. “With a population of 62 million people, Myanmar’s market cannot be ignored by Malaysian companies.”

Malaysia’s major exports to Burma are palm oil, refined oil products, chemicals, processed food and machinery, said Bernama. Main imports from Burma are seafood products, sawn logs and sawn timber.

Burma Suffers an ‘Acute’ Rooms Shortage, Despite New Hotels

Despite a big increase in accommodation over the last 12 months, Burma is still suffering from an “acute room shortage” for both business and holiday visitors, a trade industry magazine said.

Burma opened 21 new hotels in 2013, raising the number of visitor beds to over 37,000, according to Ministry of Hotels Tourism figures quoted by TTR Weekly.

However, this is not enough to cater for the rapidly rising attraction of Burma as a destination for foreign visitors, the trade magazine said.

“There still remains an acute room shortage to accommodate the growth in both leisure and business related visits,” TTR Weekly said.

“More hotels are required in the commercial capital of Yangon, where rates have jumped from US$30 four years ago to around US$200 this year. The main shortage is in the three and four-star categories.”

Burma is now estimated to have more than 950 hotels and this tally is forecast by TTR Weekly to rise above 1,000 by the end of 2014.

Trade Gap Widens as Burma’s Imports Surge in April

A sharp rise in imports in April led to a wide gap in the value of goods shipped abroad and goods brought into the country, government figures show.

Between April 1 and May 9 the value of imports reached US$1.48 billion compared with exports worth $560 million, according to Eleven Media quoting the Ministry of Commerce on May 14.

In an effort to boost exports and reduce the growing import-export imbalance, the government recently established a new agency, MyanTrade, to promote Burma abroad.

The country is importing a wide range of raw materials and finished goods, while relying on gas, agricultural produce and, until recently, timber for export markets. A new law intended to protect Burma’s forests now prohibits the export of unprocessed tree logs, but permits wood products.

High-priced Cars Stuck at Rangoon Port, But Import Rules to Stay

Relaxation of controls on car imports will not be changed, a government minister reportedly said.

“In the past, car prices were very expensive and it was hard to get a permit to import a car. During my time as minister, the government has…changed the car import policy eight times. We will never change the import policy again,” the Minister for Commerce Win Myint was quoted by The Myanmar Times as saying.

The relaxation has allowed 300,000 new vehicles into the country since 2011 and brought prices down dramatically. But it has also left some expensive models worth less than it cost to import them, according to the newspaper.

“Policy changes have been controversial because of their dramatic impact on prices. Many dealers have been left with stock that is worth far less than what they paid to import it, while thousands of cars have even been abandoned at [Rangoon] port because the taxes owed are higher than their sale price,” the Myanmar Times said, quoting Rangoon car dealers.