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The incoming government of Myanmar, led by the National League for Democracy (NLD), is expected to focus on improving the country’s agricultural sector and building on reforms launched by the government of President Thein Sein.  

While Myanmar – also known as Burma -- has experienced much economic reform since the military made way for more civilian control since 2011, change has been slower to come to the agriculture sector.

Sean Turnell, an academic from Australia’s Macquarie University and informal advisor to the National League for Democracy (NLD), said that is about to change.

“So the story above all is that in agriculture things are not really good. So a reorientation of economic policy towards agriculture, making life better for Burma’s farmers and cultivators and rural population generally – that’s where we’re going to see a really strong focus,” said Turnell.

Some 70 per cent of Myanmar’s 54 million people make their living from agriculture. But many face high levels of debt, and a failure of the local credit system has forced many farmers into the hands of money lenders.

Turnell said reforms to Myanmar’s agricultural bank will also help provide more credit to farmers, as will the easing of government regulations that some say have inhibited growth in the sector.

Myanmar’s economy, buoyed by foreign investment and an easing of international sanctions, has experienced economic growth of around 8 percent a year and seen more than $8 billion in funds flow in from overseas investors.

Other crucial reforms expected include giving the central bank greater independence, including more ability to deal with inflation, currently running at 13 percent.

Asian Development Bank (ADB) senior representative Peter Brimble said reforms launched by President Thein Sein’s government have set benchmarks but several challenges remain.

“There are three key challenges this economy is facing – one is to maintain stability – like macro-economic stability and peace and stability. Second is to address the critical infrastructure constraints and improve service delivery of transport services, energy. Third would be education and training; building the ability of civil servants and private sector to operate in a modern world,” said Brimble.

Analysts say international donor and lending institutions, such as the World Bank, USAID and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) have also been preparing development programs with many set to be launched in 2016 and 2017.

FILE - A street vendor unfolds pages of a calendar featuring Aung San Suu Kyi in a Yangon street, Myanmar, Nov. 12, 2015.
FILE - A street vendor unfolds pages of a calendar featuring Aung San Suu Kyi in a Yangon street, Myanmar, Nov. 12, 2015.

But Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director for U.S.-based Human Rights Watch, said there are still concerns about whether the NLD-led government will be able to carry out reforms with the economy still largely controlled by the military or business cronies close to the military.

The military-controlled group Union Myanmar Economic Holdings, with investments in brewing, gems, real estate and transport, still faces sanctions by the United States.

“Foreign investors need to be aware of who they are doing business with and whether their investments are also going to be causing human rights abuses. We see land grabbing as a problem all over the country – whether increased foreign investment is going to exacerbate that problem or whether there will be some sort of solution to try and reform the way land is handled in Myanmar,” said Robertson.

Analysts say the increased attention to boosting growth in Myanmar’s rural and agricultural sector will help increase rural incomes, currently among the lowest in Southeast Asia.

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Posted by on in Business

Relax sanctions if Myanmar election honored

WASHINGTON (AP) " Two leading Republican senators have urged possible relaxation of U.S. sanctions on Myanmar should the ruling party respect election results and transfer power.

Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell and Sen. John McCain introduced a resolution congratulating Myanmar on its Nov. 8 election won by the opposition party of Aung San Suu Kyi.

The resolution notes that international observers have reported that the election "was largely free and fair" despite broader structural concerns such as the disenfranchisement of Rohingya Muslims.

It encourages further steps toward normalization of relations if there's a "prompt and orderly transition in power."

The U.S. eased most sanctions in 2012 but still restricts military cooperation and doing business with cronies of the former ruling junta.

McConnell is a leading congressional voice on Myanmar policy.

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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Former Myanmar refugee and business partner make million from trafficking

Former Myanmar refugee and business partner make millions from trafficking

Cast adrift: Rohingya migrants (front from left) Muhammad Rubail, 14, Hasyik, 20, Najibul Hasan, 15, and Yusuf, 22, on a boat that drifted in Thai waters off the southern island of Koh Lipe in the Andaman sea. They were later rescued along with others by fishermen in Indonesian waters and are now at a confinement camp in Aceh.

KUALA LUMPUR: To society, he is seen as a philanthropist, often helping his less fortunate countrymen. But what is not known is that this former Myanmar refugee and his Malaysian business partner make millions from the misery of those they traffick.

They have been linked to the trafficking of Rohingyas and Bangladeshis into this country along the Malaysia-Thai border.

The authorities are closing down on the two men, aged between their late 40s and 50s, who could be arrested under preventive detention laws soon, according to sources.

The two are said to be prominent figures in George Town and are known for their flamboyant lifestyles. The philanthropist from Kepala Batas set up base here two decades ago and is involved in issuing fake MyKad and UNHCR refugee documents to Rohingyas who entered the country illegally.

He has permanent resident status, is well-connected to local politicians and uses philanthropy to mask his illegal activities by donating generously to religious bodies and NGOs in Penang.

"We are working on how these two set up links with an international human trafficking syndicate," said a source. He added that armed assailants working for the traffickers posed as military personnel to avoid detection by military staff patrolling the border.

The noose closed on the traffickers two years ago after the authorities obtained information from local "tontos" who were the hired hands and from illegal immigrants in detention, said the sources.

They said the philanthropist and businessman used to hire locals to smuggle diesel, rice and other items into and out of Thailand.

They later moved on to human trafficking because the returns were better, especially since the pick-up points along the border were manned by Thai syndicate members linked to them.

One pick-up point was two and a half hours' walk from the campsites where the mass graves were discovered in Bukit Burma and another was two days' walk to Padang Besar through a sugarcane plantation.

The sources said the illegal Rohingyas and Bangladeshis were forced to pay a fee of RM7,000 (S$2,580) each to armed Thais of the international syndicate when they arrived at the border. Those who failed to do so were killed or left behind to starve.

The "ransom" was paid as follows:

> The Thais keep between RM1,000 and RM1,500 per head and pass on the balance to Malaysians linked to the George Town businessman.

> Tontos hired by the businessman to transport the illegals to Penang and Sungai Petani get RM100 per immigrant banked directly into their accounts after they have dropped off the victims.

> Some of the balance money is used to bribe enforcement authorities and the rest go the masterminds.


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Myanmar gold rush slows ahead of elections

The international rush for lucrative investments in Myanmar is being slowed by looming elections.

The international rush for lucrative investments in Myanmar is being slowed by looming elections.

Bangkok (dpa) – When Myanmar began its political reforms in 2011, firms around the world salivated at the prospect of investing in the resource-rich and largely undeveloped country.

But four years later there are signs that the rush to invest is being slowed by dragging market reforms and the country's turbulent politics.

Before 2011, Myanmar’s only big international investor was China. The investments made by China were mainly concentrated in the energy and infrastructure sectors.

When the country opened up, the market was ripe for liberalization, for example in key sectors including telecommunications and banking.

Data from the World Bank showed that direct foreign investment was 900 million US dollars in 2010, and that figure more than doubled to 2.5 billion dollars in 2011.

Companies appeared willing to put aside the risks of dealing with Myanmar’s uncertain political situation to secure the necessary contracts.

"The country has high potential for rapid growth and development given its rich natural resources, abundant labour force and strategic location,” a country report by the Asian Development Bank in 2012 noted.

Myanmar was so confident of foreign investment that it has engaged in several mega projects and economic zones including the Dawei deep sea port, the largest of its kind in South-East Asia.

Win Win Tint, the managing director of Myanmar’s largest retailer City Mart Holdings, told dpa that the situation had improved massively since 2011, noting that before the reforms the government rarely touched on business and economic policy.

“Now, the government is listening to us,” she said. The administration "has engaged with foreign countries so there is more interest from foreign investors."

But recently the rush of firms competing to invest in Myanmar has slowed to a steady stream.

A forecast by the International Monetary Fund released in February stated that “the growth outlook of the Myanmar economy remains favorable over the medium term, but downside risks for the near term have increased.”

“The bureaucratic apparatus is like an old machine,” said Win Win Tint. “It hasn’t moved for 15 years and need to be greased continuously to move.”

Many consultants and analysts also lowered their economic outlook for the country due to the uncertainty surrounding elections scheduled for the end of the year.

Most foreign investors are "waiting for the results of the November elections, after which the nature of Myanmar's next government will become clearer,” said Sean Turnell, a Myanmar economics expert and professor in economics at Macquarie University.

Turnell argues that in order for continued economic growth there needs to be “greater stability and predictability in policy-making.”

That uncertainty may have filtered down to government decision-making on major projects like the Dawei deep sea port.

The 50-billion-dollar project was once destined to cover over 200 square kilometres and hold more tons of cargo than the ports of Los Angeles and New York combined.

Now the signing agreement between Myanmar, Thailand and private developer Italian-Thai Development has been constantly postponed.

“We are ready to sign it, the Thai government is ready to sign it, the Myanmar government however are delaying the issue,” said Pravee Kamolkanchana, Italian-Thai Development’s marketing manager.

“We are dealing with an unprecedented situation,” said Nyantha Maw Lin, the Myanmar director of corporate advisory firm Vriens and Partners.

According to Nyantha, various government agencies are putting in place plans to ensure stability over the transition of government including putting installing permanent secretaries to oversee policy.

“Myanmar has never had such a transition before so there are going to be hiccups,” he said.

Regardless of who wins the election, business leaders and analysts agree that Myanmar needs to do more to reassure foreign investors over the next transition of power.

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German Myanmar Business Chamber Launches in Yangon

SINGAPORE, May 18, 2015 /PRNewswire/ -- More than 120 business leaders and entrepreneurs attended the recent launch of the German Myanmar Business Chamber (GMBC) at the Residence of the German Ambassador, H.E. Christian-Ludwig Weber-Lortsch. The GMBC is a platform exchange between German and Myanmar companies that are seeking business opportunities in Southeast Asia's fastest growing market. Furthermore, it seeks to establish a dialogue with the Myanmar government on economic frameworks.

"The GMBC will work in a spirit of partnership. In order to succeed, German and Myanmar companies need to be committed to sharing market insights, knowledge and networks with each other. The GMBC aims to foster this dynamic interaction and collaboration," says Jens Knoke, Founding President of the GMBC. The founding Executive Committee stands exemplarily for this approach, bringing together two strong German corporates, one of the leading local manufacturers and a Joint Venture company.

With an inaugural membership of more than 50 companies, GMBC will promote German business activities with Myanmar companies and government agencies, and opportunities in Myanmar with the German business community. It will work closely with the Delegation of German Industry and Commerce to support German corporate activities while facilitating knowledge transfer towards developing the Myanmar private sector. Apart from the growing base of German companies in Myanmar, GMBC has on its roster of members Myanmar companies that have partnerships or are exploring opportunities with German businesses here or abroad.

"Germany has a strong basis in manufacturing -- a sector which needs to develop more strongly in Myanmar. While working on a strong market position in Myanmar, German member companies are committed to share know-how on efficient technologies and management. Together, we hope to build responsible and sustainable business practices that will create multiple economic opportunities and long-term progress for the country," adds Mr. Knoke.

Germany is a long-standing partner of Myanmar. It was one of the first countries to renew and strengthen ties with Myanmar since the latter opened its doors to the international business community in 2011. Bilateral trade between the two countries has been growing steadily over the past few years. According to official German trade statistics, German exports to Myanmar reached EUR130 million in 2014. Imports have been growing dynamically to almost 100 million USD in 2014, a staggering 79% increase compared to the year before. 

Germany's main imports from Myanmar are garments, while its principal exports to Myanmar are machinery, data-processing equipment, electrical and optical goods, chemical products, motor vehicles and vehicle parts and pharmaceutical products. German companies targeting Myanmar's growing consumer and industrial market include global leaders such as Bayer, BASF, Bosch, Henkel, Siemens and ThyssenKrupp.

About GMBC

Founded in 2015, the German Myanmar Business Chamber is the official membership organisation of companies active in German Myanmar business relations and a platform for bilateral exchange and co-operation. It works alongside the Delegation of German Industry and Commerce. Its Founding Executive Committee Members are: Jens Knoke (Henkel), Philipp Hoffmann (JJPun), Andre de Jong (Robert Bosch) and Christoph Steinwehe (Loi Hein).

For media inquiries, please contact:
Ko Ko Gyi/ Nay Lin
Mobile: +95-9-731-81337

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Wednesday, November 25, 2015
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