The Irrawaddy Business Roundup (April 8)

By The Irrawaddy 8 April 2017

President U Htin Kyaw has traveled to China on a six-day state visit set to focus on bilateral ties, border affairs and economic cooperation between the two countries.

The Myitsone Dam, the Burma-China oil pipeline and the construction of a deep-sea port in Kyaukpyu are expected to be high on the agenda during the trip, along with a rise in border conflicts and the management of cross-border crimes. Several media reported this week that China may drop its demand for the resumption of the Myitsone Dam in exchange for other projects.

The official visit includes stops at a number of Chinese provinces and concludes in Beijing. More than 30 delegates from Burma are participating, including the ministers for commerce and construction.

Chinese media reported that the president remarked in Xian that Burma is studying how to participate in China’s Belt and Road connectivity initiative.

Trade and investment in agriculture, tourism and education were among the topics discussed by the Burmese delegation and Chinese provincial chiefs, according to reports.

In Beijing, President U Htin Kyaw is scheduled to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping and the Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, Zhang Dejiang.

Loi Hein and Vietnam’s Dragon Capital Ink Deal

The Ruby Financial Company, part of the Loi Hein Group, has entered into a joint venture with Vietnam-based investment firm Dragon Capital to provide microfinance services, DealStreet Asia reported.

The new entity called Ruby Hill Microfinance will offer inclusive loan products and services to Burma’s growing workforce, Dragon Capital said in an announcement.

Sai Sam Htun, chairman of Loi Hein, and Dominic Scriven, chairman of Dragon Capital, will jointly chart out the strategic business course for Ruby Hill Microfinance, according to DealStreet.

Loi Hein’s chief strategy officer Trinh Proctor has been appointed CEO of the operation.

Dragon Capital manages US$1.5 billion assets in public and private equities, fixed income and property.

The joint venture aim to tap the unbanked and underbanked community in Burma, where unmet financing demands are estimated at $1 billion, DealStreet reported.

Japanese Insurer Enters the Market

Japanese company Dai-ichi Life Insurance has opened a representative office in Burma as it seeks to raise its profile in the insurance market in Southeast Asia.

It is the second Japanese life insurer to open an office in Burma, after Taiyo Life Insurance entered the market in 2012, according to Nikkei Asia.

Dai-ichi also operates in India, Singapore, Indonesia, Cambodia and Thailand, and it has been present in Vietnam for 10 years. The Mekong region is seen as a growth area for the company, according to the report.

Burma’s insurance industry is still in the very early stages. The government currently does not allow foreign insurers to offer services outside the Thilawa Special Economic Zone. Three Japanese non-life insurers have received permission to operate in the zone, the report said.

However, the government has indicated to foreign insurers with local offices that further liberalization was in the pipeline, the report added.

Project Cuts Water Wastage in Rangoon

A pilot project to reduce the volume of water in Rangoon lost due to leaks and illegal connections has been completed, a Philippines-based company said in a release.

Manila Water announced that the initiative with the Mitsubishi Corporation and the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC) had helped to significantly reduce the amount of water wasted in project areas from 54 percent to 14 percent.

The project with Manila Water originated in 2014. The company’s subsidiary Manila Water Asia Pacific also has a presence in Vietnam and Indonesia, according to the release.

Students Set to Study Tech with Huawei

Chinese telecoms giant Huawei has launched a program to send 10 outstanding students from Burma to China to learn about information and communications technology, Xinhua reported.

Selected students from the Yangon University of Computer Science and Thanlyin Technological University will study under a program named “Seeds for the Future,” in offices of Huawei.

Huawei founded a Network Academy in Rangoon’s Thanlyin Technological University last year, after it signed a memorandum of understanding with Burma’s Ministry of Transport and Communication on cooperation in ICT development.

Zhang Liman, chief executive officer of Huawei Myanmar, said the company is planning to enter another agreement for a five-year project to develop Burmese ICT talent with Rangoon’s regional government.

Since the Huawei international program was launched in 2008, more than 2,700 students from 96 nations have traveled to China for study, according to the report.

Pulses Exports Meet Rising Indian Demand

Burma earned more than US$1.3 billion in exports of pulses up to the second week of March of the 2016-2017 fiscal year, according to the Ministry of Commerce.

India is the largest customer for Burmese pulses, with other markets including China and Vietnam. Indian demand for mung beans in particular has increased, local outlet Eleven Myanmar said in a report.

Burma is one of the world’s top producers of beans and pulses, exporting more than 1 million tons annually, the report said.

Tech Start-Ups Receive Backing

Tech hub Phandeeyar has announced that four teams from its startup accelerator initiative successfully completed an intensive six-months coaching program and secured US$25,000 each as seed money in the form of a convertible note, DealStreet Asia reported.

The startups are a comic book app White Merak, a freelancers’ platform Chate Sat, a tour packages comparison portal GoP and hotels and guesthouses booking site Ezstay.

The teams were recently exposed to a network of investors including Digital Ventures, Omidyar network, Anthem Asia and BOD Tech.

“They have all built their product and shown that there’s demand for it in the market,” said David Madden, founder and CEO of Phandeeyar Myanmar Innovation Lab. “We hope investors will get behind these startups and give them the financing that they need to take their companies to the next level.”

In another development, six startup teams that entered a Phandeeyar-backed Civic Tech Competition received seed money to develop their prototypes before pitching their products to investors, according to the report.