The Irrawaddy Business Roundup (Oct. 3, 2015)

By Simon Lewis 3 October 2015

Burma Economy Remains Among the World’s Least Competitive: WEF

Burma remains among the 10 least competitive countries in which to do business, according to the latest rankings of the World Economic Forum (WEF).

The annual Global Competitiveness Index for 2015-16, published Wednesday, scored Burma’s economy 3.3 out of a maximum of 7 overall across a number of fields that the WEF considers to be “factors driving productivity and prosperity.”

The country’s highlight in the ranking was in “labor market efficiency,” where it came in 73rd place out of 140 countries included.

However, Burma’s economy was found particularly lacking in “technological readiness” (138th place), “financial market development” (138th) and “business sophistication” (135th).

While the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) is campaigning for next month’s general election on the grounds that it has put the economy on the right track, Burma was ranked 131 out of 140 countries by the WEF this year.

Despite the economic reforms initiated under the government of President Thein Sein, the score suggests the situation is barely different from last year, when Burma placed of 134 out of 144 countries in the WEF rankings.

Most painfully for the government, which has initiated road-building programs across the country and tried to kick-start major economic zone developments, the WEF index ranked the country a poor 137th out of 140 in terms of transport infrastructure, and 131st for electricity and telephone infrastructure.

Burma was only included in the rankings for the first time in 2013-14, when it placed 139 out of 148 countries overall. In that year, the country ranked 141st in terms of transport, energy, and communications infrastructure.

At the time, the WEF gave recommendations to the quasi-civilian government that had just begun its program of reforms.

“Given the extent of the task ahead, and in order to have the biggest impact in creating a more conducive environment for business to flourish, Myanmar needs to focus on the basic determinants of its competitiveness, namely the institutional framework (141st), transport, energy, and communication infrastructures (141st), health and primary education (111th), and the banking sector, as well as access to technology,” it said.

Telenor Says Expansion to Arakan, Chin States Imminent 

Norwegian telecommunications firm Telenor has said it will launch its network in Arakan and Chin states “very soon.”

The operator, which this week marked the one-year anniversary of its start of operations in Burma, appears to have raced ahead of Qatari rival Ooredoo in the battle to win subscribers in the underserved market.

It claims it had picked up more than 10 million subscribers by July this year, while Ooredoo said at that time it had reached only 4.3 million subscribers. The incumbent provider, state-run Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications (MPT), is thought to have reached some 11 million subscribers after teaming up with two Japanese firms.

In a press release this week, Telenor said its 3G network was being transmitted by 3,100 towers across the country.

“Our 100% 3G network now reaches 13 major divisions/states; Mandalay, Yangon, Sagaing, Bago, Magway, Ayeyarwaddy, Tanintharyi, Kayin, Mon, Kachin, Shan, Kayah, and in union territory Nay Pyi Taw,” the release quoted Telenor Myanmar CEO Petter Furberg as saying. “We expect to launch our network in the Rakhine and Chin very soon.”

Australian Bank Opens Office in Rangoon

ANZ Banking Group was set to officially open its first branch in Burma this week, according to a statement.

The company said in a statement on Wednesday that it had received approval to open the branch, after it was named earlier this year among nine foreign banks to be awarded licenses to offer some banking services in the country.

The Australia-based bank will open its first branch in Rangoon, the statement said. ANZ is the last of the nine foreign banks to open a branch, with the International Construction Bank of China, Bangkok Bank and Japan’s Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ among the other eight that have already set up in the former capital.

ANZ claimed in the statement that it was the “only international bank with strong connectivity with the global market” to have entered the Burmese market.

“ANZ will service multinational and joint venture companies with a presence in Myanmar

from the new branch, as well as international companies looking to enter Myanmar from ANZ’s network countries,” the statement said.

“It will offer specialist banking services for natural resources, utilities and infrastructure, telecommunication, consumer goods and other global diversified sectors that are expanding in Myanmar.”

Official Tourist Numbers to Exceed 4.5m: Minister

The Burmese government is expecting its official figure for the number of tourists visiting the country to reach more than 4.5 million this year, according to an official report.

The Global New Light of Myanmar this week quoted Minister for Hotels and Tourism Htay Aung saying that the number of arrivals so far this year had already surpassed last year’s total of 3.08 million.

“If Myanmar continues to keep this momentum going, the number will grow to more than 4.5 million visitors by the end of the year,” he was quoted saying, citing figures from the end of August.

The government’s tourism figures are widely seen as inflated, including business arrivals and border-crossing visitors who barely enter the country. But the minister’s prediction would still fall short of the 5 million visitors the government has targeted for this year.

Singapore-Based Company Enters Jet Fuel Joint Venture

Puma Energy Group Pte. Ltd. will set up a joint venture with Burma’s state-owned petroleum company to sell jet fuel in the country, according to Reuters.

The newswire cited state newspaper Myanmar Alin saying that Puma, which was picked by the government to be its new partner for jet fuel in a tender last year, had signed with the Myanmar Petroleum Products Enterprise last week.

“Under the agreement, the two firms will set up National Energy Puma Aviation Services Co. Ltd. and MPPE will receive $20 million from Puma Energy as a signature bonus,” Reuters reported.

The venture will also see Puma Energy invest $51 million, the report said, while the state-owned enterprise will put in $26 million worth of machinery and equipment.

“Demand for jet fuel at Myanmar’s three international airports in Yangon, Mandalay and Naypyidaw is expected to grow rapidly,” Reuters said.

“The value of jet fuel imports has also risen, totaling $2.44 billion in 2014/2015, up from $2.3 billion in 2013/2014 and $1.92 billion in 2010/2011, according to government data.”