The Irrawaddy Business Roundup (September 6, 2014)

By William Boot 6 September 2014

Burma e-Visa Reduces Queues, But Remains ‘Cumbersome’

A new electronic application system introduced to try to speed up visa applications for tourists visiting Burma is “cumbersome and slow,” a travel trade newspaper said.

An online visa buying system was introduced this week for visitors from 40 countries, but an application still takes five days and is obtainable only for tourists arriving in the country at Rangoon’s airport, said TTR Weekly in Bangkok.

“[The system] still remains cumbersome and slow, although considerably more convenient than visiting an embassy or consulate,” the paper reported.

“The Myanmar embassy in regional hub Bangkok is deluged daily with visa requests, leading to hours-long queues.”

Tourism has become a mushrooming and lucrative business since the end of the military regime in Burma and the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism is targeting 5 million visitors a year by the end of 2015.

There were 2 million overseas visitors in 2013, according to the ministry, and this year could “possibly be 3 million at the present growth rate,” TTR Weekly said.

The online visa, valid for 28 days, costs US$50, but is not available for business visitors, said Eleven Media quoting the Ministry of Immigration.

The new system coincides with an announcement by Bangkok Airways that it will introduce direct routes to Rangoon and Mandalay from Chiang Mai in northern Thailand from October 26 to eliminate transfers in Bangkok.
Anti-Money Laundering Watchdog Formed to Hunt and Prosecute Offenders

Burma now has an anti-money laundering watchdog charged by the Naypyidaw government with investigating and prosecuting individuals and businesses suspected of illegally processing cash, a report said.

The 15-member Anti-Money Laundering Central Board was formed at the end of August and will be led by the home affairs ministry, said Eleven Media quoting a government statement.
Its members include the governor of the Central Bank, deputy ministers from the Home Affairs Ministry and the Finance Ministry, the deputy attorney-general and the country’s chief of police.

The only non-government official invited onto the board is Win Aung, the president of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

“The board has nine tasks, including adopting policies related to anti-money laundering and terrorism financing; taking legal action…in coordination with respective government departments and other agencies; and laying down a national strategy to combat the crime,” said Eleven Media, citing a government gazette statement.
Burmese Firms to Import Expensive Gas to Meet Power Plant Shortfall

Burma is to begin importing natural gas to meet a shortfall in supplies to fuel new power plants built in the greater Rangoon area, a report said.

Import licenses were awarded to several Burmese firms, including Asia World, said Eleven Media, adding that they were jointly paying for a delivery of 85 million cubic feet of liquefied natural gas (LNG) by sea tanker.

The report quoted Ministry of Energy sources. However, it’s not clear how LNG imports will be handled.
LNG is chilled into liquid form at its export source for ease of transport but requires specialist equipment to regasify it on delivery.

The Naypyidaw government was considering the hire of a Floating Storage and Regasification Unit to anchor off Rangoon harbor, Natural Gas Asia reported several months ago.

Despite Burma being a major natural gas producer, most production is exported on long-term contracts signed by the previous military government, mainly to Thailand.

The Ministry of Electrical Power has said Burma’s growing number of gas-fueled power plants need 500 million cubic feet per day (mcfd), however, only 300 mcfd is available.
Thailand ‘Abuses Freedom of Expression’ in Burmese Rights Trial

Major international retailing businesses such as Marks & Spencer and food chain giant Tesco have joined called for the criminal case against human rights campaigner Andy Hall in Thailand to be dropped.

Hall is facing multiple criminal defamation charges brought by Thailand’s Natural Fruit company, the world’s largest pineapple grower which produces juice drinks for export. He alleged in a report that the company’s factory near Bangkok abused Burmese migrant workers in various ways and illegally employed Burmese children.

The trial against Hall, a Briton, began this week and if convicted he could be imprisoned for up to eight years.
The civil charges “are being brought under new laws intended to clamp down on freedom of expression,” The Guardian newspaper in London said.

“The Thai government should be embarrassed that its courts are being used to prosecute Mr Hall. And it should be grateful for his work to expose wrongdoing.”

Hall and other rights campaigners allege that many of the estimated 2.5 million migrant workers in Thailand—80 percent of whom are Burmese—are mistreated by employers with below legal pay, long hours, no holidays and confiscation of documents to prevent them leaving.
Northeast India Deal Boosts Burma’s Rice Exports

India is to import 500,000 tons of rice from Burma for distribution in the isolated northeast Indian states of Mizoram and Tripura.

The rice is needed because of major renovation work on the states’ railways beginning in October which will disrupt local supply routes, Myanmar Business Network said. The Burmese rice will be imported over a year until the railways are back to normal, it said.

The India sales deal comes after the Ministry of Commerce said rice exports rose 25 percent in the first four months of this financial year compared with the previous. The increase was attributed to higher purchases from Russia, the ministry said.

Burma exported about 1 million tons of rice in the 2013-14 financial year.