The Irrawaddy Business Roundup (August 20)

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 20 August 2016

New debit and credit cards launched

A new debit and credit card service was launched in Burma this week when Burma’s AYA Bank and the Myanmar Payment Union Public Co. (MPU) signed a deal with JCB International Co. (JCBI), the international operations subsidiary of Japan-based credit-card company JCB Co.

Burma is the fourth country in the Mekong region in which JCB cards have been made available, after Thailand, Vietnam and Laos, according to an announcement by AYA Bank.

The cards, combining the MPU and JCB brands, come in four kinds: the Universal Platinum credit card, Universal Gold credit card, Universal Silver credit card, and Universal debit card, according to the statement.

Cardholders can use MPU’s nationwide merchant network and enjoy privileges at JCB’s international merchant network which has more than 31 million locations globally, the announcement said. There are also special privileges at hotels and airport lounges for platinum cardholders.

“This co-brand arrangement will enable cardholders to have more flexible options for payments in foreign countries. It’s another milestone in the Myanmar card payment market, to promote the country’s transition to a cashless economy,” said Zaw Zaw, founder and chairman of AYA Bank.

“Myanmar is an important market for JCBI. With its growing economy and population, the country has great potential for growth in the card payment market,” said Kimihisa Imada, deputy president of JCB International.

Boost in air links between Mandalay and Bangkok

Myanmar National Airlines will begin thrice-weekly flights on the Rangoon-Mandalay-Bangkok route staring from August 31, the travel website TTR Asia reported this week. The service is scheduled for Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Captain Than Tun, managing director of MNA, said in local media that the service aims “to tap demand from passengers in the country’s second largest city [Mandalay].”

The service will start just a day before rival airline Myanmar Airways International launches a direct Mandalay to Bangkok service on Sept. 1, with three flights a week on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, using an Airbus A319.
Government gives suspension orders to two jade mining companies

Two companies found to be illegally mining for jade on state forest land have been ordered to suspend production, a spokesperson for the Sagaing Division government said on Wednesday.

Radio Free Asia reported that the Lin Htet Zaw and Jade Gold companies were illegally mining on land under the control of the Forestry Department in Indaw Township of Katha District.

Under the former government, the Ministry of Mines had given the companies operating permits, but the firms had not obtained permission from the township’s Forestry Department, said Than Htay, spokesman for the Sagaing Chief Minister Myint Naing.

An inspection had shown that “the companies didn’t follow rules and regulations […] they were working on more acres than they were permitted to work on, and didn’t follow the rules for disposing of mining waste,” the spokesman told RFA.
The Forestry Department sued the companies in Indaw Township court in May. They were each fined 5,000 kyats (US$4) for conducting illegal operations, according to a Forestry Department officer who declined to be named.

The Irrawaddy reported in July that the new government would not renew existing jade mining licenses until environmental impact assessments have been completed. Hundreds of licenses expired at the end of July. Many hundreds more will expire in 2018.

About 10 mining companies that have been operating in Indaw Township since 1990 have stopped production, pending the receipt of new licenses.

Suu Kyi inks deals with China

Burma and China signed deals to build two hospitals, as well as a bridge near the border of the two countries, during a visit by State Counselor and Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi to Beijing this week.

The two hospitals will be built in Burma’s largest cities, Rangoon and Mandalay, Aye Aye Soe, deputy director-general at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told Reuters.

The bridge aims to improve transport and communication between the countries and will be built in the town of Kunlong, 32 kilometers (20 miles) from the Chinese border, in Burma’s northern Shan State.

No further details on these proposed projects, including how they will be financed and when they are planned for, were available at the time of going to press.

Tin output in Burma forecast to drop

Tin ore production in Burma may decline next year, according to the International Tin Research Institute.

Output could fall by as much as 5,000 tons in 2017, from 30,000 metric tons of contained metal mined in 2015, due to depletion of resources and a drop in grades, Bloomberg quoted an Institute representative as saying.

“Myanmar’s tin ore industry faces a development bottleneck,” Cui Lin, the institute’s China representative told Bloomberg. “Their production costs are also rising as they move to underground from open-pit mining. That involves a lot of fixed-asset investment.”

The Tin Institute based its estimates on Burma’s exports to China, which account for most of its shipments of the product. Burma is one of the world’s largest tin exporters, with much of it coming from areas of northern Shan State controlled by the United Wa State Army, Burma’s most powerful non-state armed group, backed by China.