Business

US Investment in Burma Forecasted to Increase

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 6 June 2016

RANGOON — US investment in Burma has strong potential to increase this year, experts said at a US-Burma Economic Relations seminar in Rangoon on Monday.

Entitled “US-Burma Economic Relations: The Next Phase,” the seminar was jointly organized by the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI) and the United States Chamber of Commerce. With the former playing host at their Rangoon head office, local and foreign experts attended alongside government officials and US Ambassador to Burma Scot Marciel.

“Most US investors are interested in investing in services, IT and the telecommunications sector [in Burma]. I expect there will more US investors coming this year after the Myanmar Investment Commission is reconstituted [under the new government],” said Aung Naing Oo, director general of the Directorate of Investment and Companies Administration.

“Though there has been little US investment here so far due to sanctions and other remaining restrictions, after the easing of some sanctions and investment limits this year, I expect more US investors will come,” he added, citing recent meetings between US business groups and local investors, as well as members of the government, since April.

Aung Naing Oo said that, since April, the Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC) has scrutinized 102 investment proposals (around 50 local and 50 foreign, including some from the US). The MIC is currently being reconstituted and is scheduled to resume its work in mid June—after which, these proposals will be approved as soon as possible, he said.

US Ambassador to Burma Scot Marciel told the seminar attendees that the American government strongly supported both Burma’s transition to democracy and its economic reforms. He said he believed the US private sector could play a role in fostering “broad-based growth” with what he described as its high standards of transparency, good corporate governance and American access to superior technology.

Marciel added that support for the private sector in Burma, particularly in trade and investment, would be crucial for the new government’s success.

Marciel said that the US was not directing sanctions at the Burmese economy; instead the list of Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) was in place to target specific individuals known to be involved in illicit activity or to have close links with Burma’s military, which remains beyond civilian oversight. However, the ambassador acknowledged the outsized influence that many on the SDN list still have on Burma’s economy.

Marciel also defended the ongoing ban on gem imports from Burma to the US, due to the gem industry’s role in fueling conflict in Burma.

Dr. Aung Tun Thet, an advisor to the UMFCCI, said in the seminar that US investors should come quickly, and invest in the right areas. “It is time to invest in Myanmar,” he said.

Dr. Maung Mg Lay, vice president of the UMFCCI, told the seminar that the government needed to untangle more of its cumbersome bureaucracy in order to attract more foreign investors.

Maung Mg Lay also stressed that the ultimate goal of the US in Burma should be to lift all sanctions and reinstate the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), a preferential tariff system from which he said Burma would stand to benefit.

“For the US to bring to technology and skills [to Burma] is important,” Maung Mg Lay said.

John Goyer, senior director for South East Asia for the US Chamber of Commerce, released a White Paper at the conference that included policy recommendations aimed at both the American and Burmese governments.

Burma has “an ambitious and daunting economic agenda,” John Goyer said at the seminar. “The US business community fully supports [Burma’s] efforts to modernize and open [its] economy and wants to be a partner in these efforts.”

In 2015, US exports to Burma were at US$227 million while imports were at $144 million, according to figures from Burma’s Directorate of Investment and Companies Administration. The total approved US investment in Burma stands at US$248 million.

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