Irrawaddy Business Roundup (November 30, 2013)

By William Boot 30 November 2013

Bangkok Street Protests ‘Could Boost Burma’s 2013 Tourism Tally’

Civil unrest in Bangkok and other Thai cities could give Burma’s 2013 tourism a spurt to boost the year’s tally to around 2 million, industry observers said.

Continuing anti-government mass protests will lead to holiday cancellations, said the trade newspaper TTR Weekly, and travelers could look to Burma.

“Travel industry leaders have voiced deep concern over the current political unrest, pointing out that if it continues another week the trade should brace for cancellations and a loss of confidence in Thailand,” said TTR Weekly.

Burma already clocked more than 1.5 million visitors this year up to the end of October and the final 2013 tally could reach 1.9 million or even 2 million, said the paper quoting figures from Naypyidaw’s Ministry of Hotels and Tourism.

“More airlines are due to fly to tourist destinations in [Burma] and more overland checkpoints will be upgraded to allow international visitors to enter the country,” said TTR Weekly, quoting a ministry official.

“Thailand is [Burma’s] leading travel supplier, followed by Japan, China, South Korea, and Malaysia. Most tourists visiting from Europe come from France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland,” said the paper. “Thais travel to [Burma] for both business and leisure. Buddhist pilgrimage visits are popular.”

Unilever Aims to Double Food Business in Burma Every Two Years

The food ingredients producer and supplier Unilever Food Solutions intends to double its business in Burma every two years, the company’s Bangkok-based Southeast Asia managing director said.

From a start-up in 2010 delivering foodstuffs such as sauces to 200 Burmese restaurants, the firm now serves 1,000 restaurants in the country, Prasith Preechachalieo told The Nation newspaper.

In association with the Myanmar Restaurant Association, Unilever is one of the sponsors of the SEA Games to be held in Burma Dec. 11-22 and is helping train staff to cook for the expected 4,000 athletes.

“Thailand is still our [ingredients] production base for Indochina including [Burma], Laos and Cambodia in the business-to-business market, but when the market grows the company may set up a new plant in [Burma] in the future,” Prasith said.

Unilever Food Solutions is part of the giant British-Dutch food, beverages and hygiene products group Unilever based in London and Amsterdam.

Rice Export Slump Leaves Burma Far Short of 3 Million Tons Target

Burma has been able to export just under 413,000 tons of rice in the current financial year to date— only half the volume exported in the same period of 2012, government and industry leaders said.

The low volume of overseas sales means the rice industry will fall far short of an ambitious target of 3 million tons for the 2013-2014 financial year proposed earlier by the Ministry of Commerce.

With just over four months left of the financial year, Burma had exported 412,740 tons between April 1 and November 15, Eleven Media quoted the ministry as saying.

Myanmar Rice Federation Secretary-General Soe Tun blamed the export decline on several problems, including a surfeit of rice on the international market and a drop on domestic production caused by higher costs and weather-affected smaller harvest.

Neighbor Bangladesh Edges Closer to Being a Burma Gas Importer

Bangladesh could soon be in the market to buy natural gas from Burma.

The Dhaka government has approved plans for a US $200 million offshore floating terminal to process imported liquid natural gas (LNG) in a bid to ease Bangladesh’s acute gas shortage.

The terminal, easier to assemble than a land-based one, is to be located near Cox’s Bazar close to the Burmese border on the Bay of Bengal to relieve energy shortages suffered by Bangladesh’s main port city of Chittagong, the gas industry website Energybangla said.

US firms Astra Oil and Excelerate Energy have been named as the preferred bidders for a contract from the Bangladesh government to build the LNG terminal, said Dhaka’s New Age newspaper.

Excelerate Energy of Texas is a specialist firm in building floating LNG terminals.

Scores of factories have had to be closed in Chittagong because of the lack of gas to fuel electricity generation in the city.

The industrial city gets less natural gas now than five years ago, the Financial Express reported recently. In 2008, Chittagong received 6.8 million cubic meters per day. Today it has on average only 5.2 million cm, the Express said.

LNG is normal natural gas chilled into liquid form so it can be transported easily in sea tankers.

New Non-State Newspapers Struggle to Survive in Marketplace

Publishers of new non-government daily newspapers are struggling to survive financially as they face a shortage of advertising revenue and distribution cost problems, the New York Times reported.

Twelve dailies were established six months ago following the end of state control of the industry, but they have to compete with government newspapers which still monopolize advertising revenue.

Three of the 12 have already been forced to close due to financial losses, said the paper’s reporter Thomas Fuller.

“Distribution in big cities is still unreliable for the private papers, especially during the rainy season, and nearly non-existent in the countryside. And a typical cover price of 20 [US] cents a copy for the private papers is too high for many readers, publishers say,” the paper said.

“The state publications sell for a fraction of the price and have plentiful advertising, a legacy of military rule when they were the only dailies in the country.”