The Irrawaddy Business Roundup (Oct. 25, 2014)

By William Boot 25 October 2014

Burma Captures 10% of Global Tin Market as Production Soars

Burma is rapidly becoming one of the world’s biggest producers and exporters of tin and could soon undermine the market dominance of the biggest producer, Indonesia.

Tin production in Burma is forecast to grow 12 percent in the next year to reach 28,000 tons, which would represent 10 percent of the global market, the International Tin Research Institute (ITRI) in England said.

Exports are going to Thailand, Malaysia and China, said Bloomberg, quoting the managing director of one of Burma’s biggest mines, at Heinda in Tenasserim Division.

The mine is owned by the Thai firm Myanmar Pongpipat, which has been facing legal action by local residents alleging environmental damage caused by mining.

Bloomberg said Burma was exporting more tin at a time when the price was falling and Indonesia, which produced 91,000 tons last year, was seeking to reduce its production and exports to boost market prices.

However, Myanmar Pongpipat managing director Kriangkrai Chavaltanpipat told Bloomberg his firm planned to expand the Heinda mine to meet Chinese demand.

Burma’s tin exports to China increased 50 percent between January and August, Bloomberg reported, citing research by Macquarie Bank.

“[Burma] has come from nowhere and suddenly became a major provider of tin to China,” Macquarie said. “It’s more than filling in the gap for Indonesia already.”

London Taskforce to Help Burma’s Central Bank Develop Finance Sector

The British government has sent a “taskforce” to Burma to help improve the country’s financial institutions and services.

London “wants to encourage and support [Burma’s] efforts to remove barriers to becoming a functioning, prosperous, sustainable economy benefitting all of its people and regions,” said Tony Preston, the head of a “prosperity team” at the British Embassy in Rangoon.

The UK Financial Services Taskforce includes representatives from Standard Chartered Bank, Prudential Insurance, Allen & Overy, the British Embassy and the Bank of England, a statement from the British Embassy said.

“The vision of the taskforce is to support the holistic development of [Burma’s] financial sector,” Preston told a financial forum in Rangoon this week.

The taskforce would help the Burma Central Bank’s plan for regulation and management of the country’s rapidly growing financial sector, he said. It aims to help local industry develop new financial products and services; advise on regulatory structures; and give guidance on effective education, training and qualifications for the sector.

“Supervision of the domestic banking sector here is becoming increasingly important, particularly in light of the institutional change brought about by Central Bank independence, the raft of new laws, new technologies such as mobile banking, nearly 200 recently registered microfinance institutions, new state banks being created and banks entering the market,” Preston said.

MOGE to Offer More Oil and Gas Block Development Licences

More oil and gas exploration blocks will be put up for licence bidding in the next year, a report said, quoting the state Myanmar Oil & Gas Enterprise (MOGE).

No details on the blocks were given but they are expected to be both offshore and onshore, said Singapore’s Channel News Asia (CNA).

“[Burma] will release another 15 oil exploration blocks by the end of next year to international investors,” CNA said. It quoted MOGE’s director of planning, Than Min, saying “expectations are high to discover more oil and gas.”

Several onshore blocks have been awarded to a mixture of domestic and foreign explorers but there have been no major discoveries yet.

MOGE and other state agencies and the Ministry of Energy continue to discuss the terms of contracts for 20 offshore blocks awarded to mostly big foreign firms last March. Thirty offshore blocks were offered in the initial bidding, which began in 2013, but 10 were dropped from the process by MOGE without explanation.

Thai Firm in Deal to Build Large Solar Energy Project Near Naypyidaw

A Thai company and Burma’s Ministry of Electric Power have for the second time in 16 months announced plans to build a large solar electricity generating project.

Green Earth Power (GEP) signed an MoU with the ministry in May 2013 to build a 210-megawatt solar panel plant spanning a large acreage at Minbu near the capital Naypyidaw. Green Earth said the project would cost US$275 million and be completed in two years.

Nothing had happened since then until the two sides this week signed another agreement for the project. Electric Power Minister Khin Maung Soe said he “wished for continued cooperation for the successful implementation of the solar plant,” according to Eleven Media.

GEP, which has little experience in solar power, has told Bloomberg business news agency it hopes to finance 70 percent of the project with bank loans.

Burma suffers from acute shortages of electricity and in the last two years there have been numerous tentative agreements for new generating capacity projects involving firms from Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand, but few have moved forward.

“The proposed solar plant is a large venture for such a little known company. They key to its success and benefit to the country is being plugged into the electricity distribution grid,” energy industries analyst Collin Reynolds in Bangkok told The Irrawaddy. “From what I understand, the grid is in poor shape and urgently needs renovating.”

Major US Firms to Fund $7 Million Microfinance Scheme for Women

Giant American companies Coca-Cola and Chevron have pledged millions of dollars to help improve the lives of more women in Burma by giving them access to finance and communications technology.

The two firms, working with the Washington-based microfinance fund Pact, will donate US$7 million to help 65,000 women in six regions of Burma, said Myanmar Business Today.

Pact is already involved in several programs to help provide funding for poor rural communities, especially women, in an effort to lift them out of deep poverty.

The new funds will expand existing programs and “start efforts in two new regions of the country,” Pact said.

“One of the key challenges to lifting people out of poverty in Myanmar is inadequate access to capital. With an average per capita income of less than US$2 per day, more than one in four people live in poverty,” Pact said.

Chevron is engaged in Burma’s offshore gas industry and Coca-Cola was one of the first big US firms to return to the country after Washington lifted economic sanctions.