The Irrawaddy Business Roundup

By Nan Lwin 8 February 2020

YANGON—China’s coronavirus outbreak has continued to hit Myanmar’s tourism sector and border trade hard, causing massive losses for producers, exporters and tourism businesses during the week. These sectors were hit hardest, as they are heavily reliant on Chinese business, but other sectors in Yangon and Mandalay also saw slowdowns connected to concerns about the virus outbreak.

In addition, business delegations from France and Belgium held meetings with Myanmar businesses to explore investment opportunities and to expand business ties with Myanmar. A business delegation from the American Chamber of Commerce and the US Commercial Service also visited Mandalay, Myanmar’s second-largest economic hub, to seek further economic ties there.

French seek investment opportunities in Myanmar

Myanmar State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi (center) and French delegates pose for a group photo after a meeting in Naypyitaw on Feb. 5, 2020. / Myanmar State Counselor’s Office

The business delegation from the French-Myanmar Business Council and the ASEAN Committee of MEDEF International (Mouvement des Entreprises de France) visited Naypyitaw and Yangon during the week to explore potential investment opportunities in Myanmar.

The French delegation met Myanmar State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Union Minister for Planning, Finance and Industry U Soe Win, Union Minister for Investment and Foreign Economic Relations U Thaung Tun, Union Minister for International Cooperation U Kyaw Tin, and senior officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Naypyitaw.

During the meeting, the sides discussed Myanmar’s investment climate and economic reforms as well as potential for cooperation between the two countries around trade, agriculture, energy and infrastructure.

The 28 members of the delegation represented prominent French international companies in energy, water, transportation, infrastructure, banking, micro-finance and trade.

The delegation also met Myanmar businesspeople at a business matching event at the Yangon headquarters of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI).

According to a UMFCCI statement, French Ambassador to Myanmar Christian Lechervy said the event aimed to explore investment opportunities between the two countries, encourage interaction between private-sector players, and promote opportunities through business relations.

The UMFCCI said that French investors are eyeing investments in the energy, railway and transportation sectors and the construction of ports in Myanmar.

France is ranked 12th among the top sources of foreign investment in Myanmar, with 22 French enterprises having invested a total of about US$515 million (about 750 billion kyats) in the country as of December 2019, according to the Directorate of Investment and Company Administration.

US delegation explores business ties in Mandalay

The US business showcase event in Mandalay on Feb. 5, 2020. / US Embassy in Yangon

The delegation from the American Chamber of Commerce in Myanmar (AMCHAM) and the US Commercial Service visited Myanmar’s second-largest economic hub, Mandalay, on Wednesday to seek more economic ties there.

Led by US Ambassador Scot Marciel, 20 American business delegates explored opportunities for expanded trade and business ties to the Mandalay region, the US Embassy said in a statement.

The delegation met with officials from the Mandalay regional government and counterparts from the Mandalay Region Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MRCCI) and participated in a business showcase to network with Mandalay-area businesses.

Marciel said the US government is committed to promoting responsible business investment and trade that benefits the people of Myanmar.

The US opened the American Business Corner in Mandalay—the first of its kind in ASEAN—in March 2019 to help American companies find business opportunities and to help increase commercial ties between two countries.

According to the DICA, the US is ranked 13th among top investors in Myanmar, with 22 enterprises having invested a total of US$531 million as of December 2019.

Virus hits Myanmar tourism and border trade

Myanmar’s tourism sector was badly hit by the government’s suspension of visas-on-arrival for Chinese tourists amid growing fears over the outbreak of coronavirus, according to tour agencies.

On Monday, Myanmar’s Ministry of Hotels and Tourism (MOHT) also asked travel companies and tour operators to temporarily stop providing services to Chinese travelers planning to visit Myanmar. The move aims to ban Chinese visitors who come to Myanmar with e-visas, as opposed to visas-on-arrival.

Travel agents said they had to cancel all bookings by Chinese customers due to the MOHT follow-up announcement. According to the MOHT, Chinese tourists have constituted the majority of foreign travelers to Myanmar since last year.

According to the Ministry of Health and Sports, as of Jan. 31, about 2,300 Chinese visitors were arriving by plane to Myanmar every day. On Wednesday, the ministry said that figure had dropped to 323 visitors per day.

Likewise, according the Ministry of Commerce, trade across the Myanmar-China border has been virtually halted since the outbreak began in China, causing huge losses to Myanmar famers and exporters.

The Commerce Ministry said that Myanmar has lost around US$15 million per day since the second week of January as border trade with China has stopped at major border gates in Muse and Chinshwehaw in Shan State and Kanpiketi in Kachin State.

Hundreds of trucks full of watermelons have been sitting at the Muse border gate since late January. The Commerce Ministry said they will be searching other markets to make up for the losses.

Belgium to expand trade and investment relations with Myanmar

The roundtable business matching event with Belgian and Myanmar businesspeople in Yangon on Feb. 3, 2020. / UMFCCI

A group of Belgian entrepreneurs held a roundtable meeting with Myanmar businesspeople at the UMFCCI’s headquarters in Yangon on Monday to learn about current economic reforms and to seek investment opportunities in Myanmar.

According to the UMFCCI, a total of 15 Belgian entrepreneurs plan to expand their investments in Yangon and Mandalay, particularly in the pharmaceutical, medical, energy, agriculture, construction and food sectors.

DICA does not compile official data on Belgian investment in Myanmar. However, the EU accounts for only around 3 percent of total foreign investment in Myanmar.

According to the Ministry of Commerce, EU countries shared only 7.6 percent of Myanmar’s total foreign trade in 2018-19 and 6.22 percent in 2019-2020.

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