• Politics: sanctions lifted by Europe
• Finance: tax reform prioritised
• Commerce: Foreign investment in energy and telecoms
• Myanmar Capital: commits to new PE investment
- A new credit guarantee corporation - Myanmar is planning to form its first credit guarantee corporation to help small and medium-sized enterprises obtain loans. The ministry will draw on foreign expertise to develop the rules and regulations for the new corporation and its technology. Credit guarantors play a key role between enterprises and banks. Lending banks are insured by the corporation against losses for eligible loans that are not repaid. Myanmar has more than 200,000 small and medium-sized enterprises.
- Taxes for all - Business leaders in Myanmar have called on lawmakers to reform the country’s tax system, criticizing poor enforcement and a lack of accountability that has allowed more than half of taxpayers, including many wealthy old-style business people, to avoid paying their dues. They estimate that there is widespread tax avoidance. They seek improvements in the system pari passu with their counterparts in the region, especially as Southeast Asian countries aim to establish a free trade area by 2015.
- Daily newspapers – Press freedom is now wider than in many countries. Four new daily newspapers hit the streets at the beginning of April; the Union Daily, Shwe Naing Ngan Thit, The Voice Daily and The Standard Time. Each sells for 150 kyats. The first is published by the ruling Party and the rest by private companies. Other privately owned dailies have also received permission to publish, these include Daily Eleven, Khit Moe Empire, The Messenger, Breaking News Daily, Myanmar Newsweek, Mizzima, D-Wave, Khit Thit Daily, Yangon Times, Myanmar Dika and 7-Day Daily.
- US$2 SIM card - Myanmar authorities have confirmed April 24 as the starting date to sell the low-cost SIM cards of CDMA 800 MHz network for Ks 1500 (approximately $2) nationwide. Totally 350,000 pieces will be allocated nationwide. However, there are some limitations using the new SIM cards. Customers may lose access to the mobile network if they do not buy Kyats 5,000 prepaid credit within 15 days from the purchase date. Customers have to use at least Kyats 2,500 per month and recharge within 15 days after phone balance reaches zero or risk having their contract terminated.
- UK and China join forces in telecoms – Vodafone and China Mobile, the two biggest telecommunications companies in the world, have joined forces to form a consortium to bid for mobile licences in Myanmar. The licence, expected to be awarded in June, is to operate a nationwide network for 15 years. Currently there is only 10% mobile penetration in Myanmar, which has a population of more than 60 million, according to Vodafone. The government has said it wants to boost coverage to 80% by 2016. "Myanmar will be an important new market for the global mobile industry," Vodafone and China Mobile said. Another consortium has also indicated interest. Billionaire George Soros' Quantum Strategic Partner has joined forces with Digicel and Serge Pun, of Yoma Strategic Holdings, to bid for licences as well.
- New businesses - The Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd. [UMEH], a military-owned conglomerate, has received approval to open two more businesses, one to assemble cars and another to produce cement. The new auto plant will be in Bago Region’s Intagaw township and its Sin Min Cement Plant (3) will be in Mandalay Region’s Kyaukse township. It will have the capacity to make 1,200 tonnes of cement a day. UMEH has subsidiaries that are involved in most major businesses in Myanmar, including banking, trading, transportation and retail.
- Date for deep-sea oil block tenders - Myanmar’s Ministry of Energy will open bidding in June 2013 for petroleum operations on a production-sharing basis in 11 shallow and 19 deep-sea blocks, bringing more foreign investment into the country’s oil and gas sector. Potential bidders include major western oil companies like BP, Shell and Chevron who will be allowed to submit three proposals for any three offshore blocks. Myanmar is rich in natural gas reserves, estimated to be in the range of 11 to 23 trillion cubic feet. Companies that win licenses for the 11 shallow blocks will have to work with at least one registered local partner, but foreign companies will be able to operate alone in the deep-sea blocks.
- More mobile towers - The telecommunications sector growing fast. The rush is to meet the growing demand for mobile phone usage by putting up more mobile phone towers to relay the calls throughout the country. "The number of the towers in the country is still not enough. The intention is to build more with the money from selling the new mobile SIM cards. Myanmar has fewer mobile towers compared to nearby countries like Vietnam and Thailand which have more than 50,000 mobile towers between them. Myanmar so far has only 1,500 towers. The number of towers will be a challenge when the number of local mobile users increases. Myanmar Post and Telecommunication (MPT) has been working together with companies such as Huawei, ZTE and ASP to build towers across the country.
- Mobile licence prequalifiers - Myanmar announced the names of 12 international consortia that have pre-qualified to bid for two mobile telecommunications licenses, moving closer to opening one of the last major untapped mobile markets. The 12 applicants are Airtel Consortium, Axiata Group Berhad, Digicel, France TelecomOrange + Marubeni, KDDI Corporation + Sumitomo Corporation + Myanmar Information and Communication Technology Development Corporation (MICTDC) + A1 Construction, Millicom International Cellular, MTN Consortium (MTN Dubai + M1 Telecom + Amara Communications), Qatar Telecom (Qtel) QSC ("Ooredoo"), Singapore Telecommunications (Singtel) + KBZ + Myanmar Telephone (MTel), Telenor, Viettel Group and Vodafone + China Mobile. Two winners will be selected to receive 15-year telecommunications licenses by June 27
- International Flights - Almost 20 airlines big and small, regional and intercontinental, are now flying to Myanmar, compared with only a handful of airlines just over one year ago. At the end of March the budget line Thai Smile, part of Thai Airways International, announced a service of five flights per week between Bangkok and Mandalay.
- Export plan - The United Nations will assist Myanmar’s Ministry of Commerce to draft its first ever 5-year strategic plan aimed at boosting exports. The government has requested the Ministry to develop the strategic plan as presently few products from Myanmar can be internationally competitive or even reach international markets since many local exporters having little knowledge of overseas markets. The UN’s International Trade Centre will help draft the strategic plan and identify new potential export products.
- Port operations double - The number of international shipments at Yangon port has doubled over the past 12 months, according to Myanmar Port Authority. In the fiscal year 2012-13, a total of 2,196 shipments arrived in Yangon compared with 951 shipments during 2002-2003. Most of the ships at Yangon berth at Asia World Port located in the downtown area. The port has been recently extended to accommodate more ships. Yangon port is currently handling about 85 percent of the country’s export and import volume, frequently facing port congestion as more ships come in and more cargoes arrive. Yangon port currently has a total of 16 wharfs and three more wharfs are under construction. There are three inland container depots in Yangon. The Yangon Port Development Plan would upgrade existing facilities to meet international standards and increase capacity to receive larger vessels. Sixteen new wharfs will be built and after the plan is completed, there will be total 32 wharfs enabling 33 ships to berth at Yangon simultaneously.
- And now Manila too - The Philippines’ construction and real estate company Ayala Corporation is looking for opportunities in Myanmar as part of its plan to broaden its investment portfolio across ASEAN ahead of the tariff-free single market scheduled to begin at the end of 2015. Ayala has sent scouts to Yangon and other commercial areas of Myanmar to seek out opportunities. It is particularly interested in infrastructure construction projects such as road building. The firm also has interests in telecommunications and plans to make a joint telecoms bid in Myanmar with Singtel.
- EU lifts sanctions - The European Union ended political and economic sanctions against Myanmar to support the country’s “remarkable process” of democratic reforms. “The people want democracy, peace and prosperity,” said the EU’s foreign policy chief . “The journey has begun; we want to be part of it,” pledging closer cooperation with the authorities in Myanmar. The EU decision lifts all sanctions except for the sale of arms and equipment. EU officials say the permanent abolition of sanctions will also encourage firms and development organizations from the bloc – the world’s largest economy – to strengthen their ties with Myanmar. President Thein Sein’s government has released hundreds of political prisoners, eased restrictions on the press and freedom of assembly and brokered cease-fires for some of the nation’s ethnic insurgencies. However, referring to recent ethnic violence and tensions, in a joint statement, the EU ministers urged the authorities in Myanmar to address the root causes of the violence, prosecute the perpetrators, grant full access to aid organizations and seek to build a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-faith society.
- Soros visits again - Hedge-fund manager and philanthropist George Soros will provide assistance to the former student activists known as the 88 Generation Students Group through his New York-based Open Society Foundations. The foundation invests in the social infrastructure that enables countries to shift from authoritarian to open societies. His foundation has provided financial support to Myanmar dissidents in the past. Soros also met with President Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi during what is his third visit to the country since late last year. His first visit began last December 26 and lasted eight days. He held discussions with Thein Sein and Suu Kyi during that visit also. He returned during the second week of January, expanding his meetings to include former student activists and leaders of ethnic groups.
- Ministry reshuffles - Myanmar’s President Thein Sein has made his first major reshuffle of ministry officials and high-ranking civil servants since coming to power two years ago, as part of reforms to clean up the government. Six high-ranking officials were forced to retire by a presidential order, while 40 other ministry officials were transferred to posts at other ministries. This big reform in civil servants is the first since President Thein Sein’s administration came to power two years ago. The six officials were forced to retire because of mismanagement or corruption, following the receipt by the President’s Office of public complaint letters detailing mismanagement and bribery cases which led to official investigations. Some of the high-ranking civil servants were found guilty
- UK is a big western investor - Foreign investment in Myanmar totalled about US $6.5 billion in the two years between February 2011 and February this year, according to figures from the Directorate of Investment and Companies Administration. In a year which saw a total inflow of $253 million for investment from five countries: China, Japan, Singapore, Britain and Vietnam, February was the biggest single month with a total of $190 million, most of which went into Myanmar’s oil and gas sector, said the directorate, and the biggest single country investor was Britain.
- Thein Sein in China - During a recent visit to China, President Thein Sein agreed with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping to enhance multi-sector cooperation. Continuity of cooperation in China’s investments was highlighted including Kyaukphyu Deep Seaport in Myanmar, interrelations of non-governmental organizations and peoples between the two countries, cultural exchanges and promotion as well as restoration of peace and stability in the border areas. China has constantly supported Myanmar in political, economic and other aspects over the past two decades.
- Trouble on the forecourt - The privatization of almost 250 state-owned gas stations in 2010 is to be investigated according to a lawmaker from the Upper House of Parliament. The previous military regime sold 247 gas stations at very low prices to private companies and to the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). Most of the stations were sold for only tens of millions of kyat or less, well below their market value. In Rangoon, just the land the stations are located on is worth billions of kyat, but they were sold for only a fraction of their value.
- ID Cards for all? - Myanmar’s Ministry of Immigration and Population is collaborating with foreign companies to upgrade how the nation keeps track of its citizens by replacing outdated paper-and-ink national identity cards with scannable “smart” cards. Six companies from South Korea, Japan and Malaysia are in Myanmar assisting the ministry with the installation of a data centre, a precursor to ultimately issuing the smart ID cards in the country. The firms are helping to compile biographical data as part of a national verification process. Myanmar nationals are still issued with paper, hand-written ID cards. The cards currently include the name of the ID holder, the holder’s father’s name, an ID number, the holder’s date and place of birth, religion, height, blood type, and any obvious facial markings. The new system for national ID cards will include detailed biographical and biometric data of the holder that will be easily retrievable by scanning the bar code. Myanmar is a multiethnic nation comprising some 135 ethnicities. While the country is dominated by the majority ethnic Bamar or Burmans, there are seven other major ethnic nationalities: the Karen, Kachin, Shan, Karenni, Mon, Arakan and Chin. Many people from these minority ethnic groups are displaced and have no ID cards, some are even considered stateless by the government.
- A new constitution - During a meeting in Japan with Myanmar families during her recent visit Aung San Suu Kyi, Chairperson of the National League for Democracy, remarked that the people appointed to write the constitution need to be respected by the people whilst the process of writing must also have transparency. The organization writing the constitution needs to be complete and have greater transparency if it to be respected and trusted by the people, she said. The people will accept the constitution if it has transparency. If the people find unacceptable points in the new draft, they must have the right to criticize them. Although the responsible persons make decision on the points that should be included in the constitution, the attitude and desire of the people are key factors in writing the constitution. As to questions raised from abroad, Suu Kyi replied that she thought the 2015 election would be free, but that the constitution as it stood presently was not fair.