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Posted by on in Business

Jade provides vital connection with Myanmar

Updated: 2014-11-27 10:21

By Yang Wanli(China Daily)

Jade provides vital connection with Myanmar

A woman examines jade accessories from Myanmar at an exhibition in Nanning, Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region. [Huo Yan / China Daily]

Xue Hui has been involved in the jade trading business in Southwest China's Yunnan province for 21 years. After quitting his job at a State-owned company in 1993 due to the low income it provided, he thought life would be better for the family trading in jade with Myanmar.

Sharing a border of nearly 2,000 kilometers with Myanmar, Yunnan's location was one of the main reasons for him to choose the business, the 60-year-old said.

"Jade culture is highly valued in both Myanmar and China and the market has kept growing," Xue said.

The trade in jade brings his family about 400,000 to 500,000 yuan ($65,000 to $81,000) annually, when business is good. His 30-year-old son is also involved, and can also speak some Burmese - very useful for the business.

Xue's story is microcosm of the jade trade between Myanmar and China.

China overtook Thailand to become the biggest trading partner of Myanmar during 2011-2012, and has retained the position ever since.

According to Myanmar official statistics, bilateral trade between China and Myanmar was worth $6.62 billion in 2013, 10 times that of 10 years ago, one-quarter of Myanmar's total $23.29 billion in foreign trade.

Myanmar has earned $1.3 billion from the export of jade over the past three years, according to the country's Ministry of National Planning and Economic Development, with China being its leading buyer.

In mid-August this year, Myanmar announced plans to establish a new central economic zone in Muse, a border town in the northern Shan state very close to Ruili in Yunnan province, to boost border trade at what is the most important crossing between the two countries.

The new zone, being established on more than 120 hectares of land at a cost of $51.54 million, comprises 18 buildings including jade trading facilities, shops, hotels, restaurants and housing complexes, according to a project official.

Figures from the country's national planning ministry show that China's investment in Myanmar had reached $14.25 billion across 65 projects as of June 2014, accounting for 30.5 percent of the country's total, making China Myanmar's largest foreign investor.

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Posted by on in Business

Myanmar eyes 5m international arrivals next year

Representatives of 17 hotels, resorts, restaurants and airlines from Myanmar were in Bangkok yesterday to meet with local buyers at the "Asean Travel Business Matching" event, organised by the Thai Travel Agents Association.

Agents from Myanmar were the biggest group among the Asean sellers at this year's matching event.

Tin Kyi Min, director of business development at Mann Yadanarpon Airlines, which was established last year, said the carrier planned to operate international routes next year from Yangon to Bangkok, Phuket and Singapore.

The network expansion is expected to boost the number of international tourists visiting Myanmar.

"The [tourism-related] private sector has a very bright future, with the number of tourists coming to Myanmar rising from 3 million in 2013 to 4.5 million this year, and the number is expected to pass 5 million next year," she said.

The Yangon-based airline, which currently operates to 12 cities in Myanmar, has two new ATR aircraft scheduled to be delivered next year. It also plans to lease one Airbus and another ATR, she added.

In Myanmar, five airlines are operating in the domestic market and only one presently services international destinations, Myanmar Airways International.

Zin Lay Wai, operation manager of Dawei Beauty, a travel business focused on the southern region of Myanmar, said the company was now marketing outside the country to promote local destinations and seek new business.

Thailand is one of the targets, along with Cambodia, Vietnam and the United States.

She said the company's customers were not only tourists, but also business travellers as its southern-Myanmar focus took in the area of the Dawai deep-sea port project and special economic zone. Yukiko Sekihara, assistant resident manager of Bagan Thiripyitsaya Sanctuary Resort, said the resort is one of three properties operated by the company.

The other two, both in Yangon, are an office building, the Sakura Tower, and a residential tower building.

All three properties are owned by a Japanese investment firm that entered Myanmar 18 years ago.

"We are in Thailand to promote our properties for foreigners, both tourists and expats, and we have received very good signs from here," she said.

Last year, more than 3 million tourists visited Myanmar, with Asean markets accounting for about 70 per cent of the arrivals, followed by European markets such as the United Kingdom and Germany.

A similar number of tourists is officially expected this year. In July, arrivals came in at 195,446, rising from 175,636 in June. January was the year's best month to date, at 269,045 arrivals.

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Posted by on in Business

Mobile phone revolution rages in Myanmar

Burmese monks receive instruction on new services after buying a mobile phone in a shop in Yangon.

YANGON: Incense swirls through the air on a darkening evening, as a Buddhist monk sits cross-legged before an ancient temple, his eyes closed in meditation. His cellphone rings. The monk fumbles in his traditional crimson robes, speaks for a while, then puts it aside and continues meditating.

All around him, his fellow Burmese are celebrating a full moon festival at the Shwedagon Pagoda, snapping pictures of themselves in front of flickering candles and filming their children. Once, a trip to the most sacred site for Burmese Buddhists meant prayerful contemplation. Today, it’s like Disneyland.

Just a few years ago, a mobile phone was a luxury well beyond the reach of ordinary citizens in Myanmar, also known as Burma, which was isolated from the rest of the world during decades of military rule.

The military junta tightly controlled who got SIM cards, and just a few years ago black-market cards cost as much as $2,000. Less than 10 percent of the population had access to cellular telephones, making the Southeast Asian nation one of the largest untapped markets in the world.

But in recent months cellphone use has skyrocketed in Myanmar as the current quasi-civilian government opened up its mobile market to two foreign telecommunications companies, which launched sales in August and September. As a result, cheap smartphones are more widely available, and the price of a SIM card has dropped dramatically — cards are now just $1.50.

Earlier this month, some Burmese braved the remnants of a tropical storm to line up outside a Telenor store in Yangon, an outlet of the Norwegian telecom firm that opened in Myanmar in September and already has 2 million customers. Others continued shopping in the dark — even after the power went out — at a Samsung dealership nearby.

Myint Thein, 67, a retired government employee who patiently waited in line, left the store with his first mobile phone that he said he bought at a “very cheap price,” about $20. “It surprises me in my heart that I can actually have a cellphone,” he said.

Last year, a SIM card cost about $200, a huge expense in a poor country where the average per capita annual income is still around $1,000. Those who could afford one prized it like a family heirloom, while the rest of the country — population 51 million — resorted to making calls from old-fashioned dial phones at roadside telephone stands.

After the Myanmar government began a process of democratic reform in 2010 under a new president, Thein Sein, expanding the country’s mobile network became an early priority, explained Ross Cormack, chief executive of Ooredoo Myanmar, a branch of the Qatar-based company that won one of the two mobile network licences awarded by the government last year. “It’s one of the last unpenetrated markets in mobile,” Cormack said. “There was a huge pent-up demand.”

Ooredoo Myanmar currently serves the major cities of Yangon, Mandalay and Naypyitaw, the capital, but it is planning to expand into rural areas in the next two years, with the goal of covering most of the country in five years.

Sean Turnell, a professor at Macquarie University in Australia who studies Myanmar’s economy, said the mobile market’s lightning-fast expansion is positive but that questions remain about the larger economy as a whole. The government has yet to make deeper economic reforms or relinquish power over large segments of industries controlled by state-owned entities or the military, he said.

There is also some concern about whether the growth of social media will provide a greater platform for Buddhist-Muslim hate speech that has plagued the country recently. But most feel that the expansion of mobile service to remote corners of Myanmar will have the same benefits seen in other developing countries. Of the more than 6 billion mobile phone users worldwide, according to a 2012 World Bank study, 5 billion are in developing countries, where they now have greater access to basic health-care information, mobile banking and employment.

“I can already see how it will be better for business,” said Khin San Nwe, 59, a government employee in the Ministry of Cooperatives. She said it is far easier now to reach the small labourers who have microloans from the ministry and work in the Irrawaddy River delta.

Awthahta Nyani, 26, a Buddhist nun, said she bought her first cellphone about a month ago and uses it for an online dictionary and to tape her lectures at college. Now, she said, she can call her nephew in Malaysia with Viber, the mobile application that is wildly popular in Myanmar. She also likes the fact that her mother, a rice farmer, can reach her easily when she calls from a telephone shop in the home village. “It’s like freedom,” she said.



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Posted by on in Business

Myanmar’s energy crisis

Saw La Yar Koo, Myanmar: When a village in the conflict-torn hills of eastern Myanmar was asked to pay authorities more than $10,000 (Dh36,733)to plug into an electricity grid, families put themselves in debt to find the cash.

Ten months later children there are still squinting over their homework by candlelight and dinners are cooked on open fires as the work to connect their homes to power lies unfinished, beset by delays and bureaucracy.

Roughly 70 per cent of Myanmar’s population still does not have access to power, so the once pariah state, which already relies on hydropower to generate half of its electricity, is again turning to its rivers in new plans to harness energy from dams.

But as it rushes to plug the power gap, activists warn of worsening tensions in ethnic minority border areas, where such projects have long brought bloodshed and upheaval — but little energy.

Back in Saw La Yar Koo village, eastern Kayah state, residents are losing patience. Sitting under the soot-blacked ceiling of her living room in the faltering glow of the cooking fire, 24-year-old Pi Rar feels cheated.

“If we had electricity, we could cook with it, could use computers and the children could study at night. I attended a computer course but I couldn’t practise at home without power,” she said.

On the dusty track outside her house, where farmers drive bullock carts past simple wooden stilt homes, a gleaming transformer sits idly after villagers say cash-strapped authorities asked each family to stump up another $350 to install electricity.

“I had to borrow half of the 80,000 kyats [the initial payment of $80] from a moneylender... They [local authorities] say we have to pay more to connect the cables to the houses,” Pi Rar told AFP.

The costs are likely to push this corn farming village into further debt just as it hopes to reap the rewards of a tentative peace deal in the state after years of bloody civil war.

Myanmar has promised access to electricity for 50 per cent of its population by 2020 and for all by 2030, as it clambers to reduce poverty and remain viable for the businesses piling into the former junta-ruled land.

Hydropower looks set to dominate. A string of major dams is planned along the Salween River, which courses from China down through the mountainous territories of eastern Myanmar’s many ethnic minorities.

But reliance on dams is deeply controversial as many projects stand in areas wracked by ethnic conflict where troops and landmines have often been deployed to guard large infrastructure projects against rebel attack.

Kayah activists fear Lawpita, Myanmar’s first hydropower project, could be the bloody blueprint for the country’s future dams.

Thousands were displaced by the project, which now provides around a quarter of the country’s hydropower capacity, and activists say a spike in soldiers stirred conflict and incidents of forced labour, land confiscation and sexual violence.

Dams are “conflict multipliers, which are not very helpful” as the country struggles to negotiate an end to more than half a century of civil wars in its ethnic borderlands, said Elliot Brennan, research fellow at the Institute for Security and Development Policy.

He said planned projects, including one in Kayah and a massive dam upstream in southern Shan state by the Chinese Three Gorges company, largely feed the demand for energy in China’s Yunnan province.

What electricity does stay in Myanmar has long been unevenly distributed.

Energy is routinely siphoned from resource-rich minority areas to power the cities of Yangon, Mandalay and Naypyidaw in the heartland of Myanmar’s Bamar majority.

This has caused deep resentment.

“What we have in our state — we should have a share. But electricity from Kayah goes to other places. Most government projects are like that,” said Burma Rivers Network researcher Mi Reh.

In a surprise snub to long-term ally Beijing, President Thein Sein suspended the Chinese-backed $3.6 billion Myitsone dam in northern Kachin state in 2011 after strong environmental concerns from the public, as clashes also broke out with local rebels over the project, ending a 17-year ceasefire.

Yet Beijing and Myanmar recently agreed to establish an electricity cooperation committee to keep future projects on track, as part of deals from China worth around $7.8 billion.

For now even Myanmar’s main cities are beset by power cuts, prompting several waves of candle-lit street protests since the end of military rule in 2011.

In Kayah much of the energy comes from Lawpita, but local electricity authorities admit that while the dam provides 210 megawatts to the national grid, it gets just 15MW.

Unsurprisingly, torches and solar panels are still hot sellers at Demoso market, where people from the hilly region near Pi Rar’s village flock to shop.

Teens in punk rock T-shirts swagger past the statuesque women of the Padaung tribe, their necks ringed with tall brass coils, as Nay Soe sells his solar panels for up to 100,000 kyat ($100).

He has noticed a slight slowdown in sales as reforms in recent years brought an uptick in energy access, but does not believe new state schemes will put him out of business any time soon.

“It won’t be within the next 20 years,” he said.

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ILO, 4 nations partner to improve labour rights in Myanmar

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the Governments of the United States, Myanmar, Japan and Denmark have together launched the Initiative to Promote Fundamental Labour Rights and Practices in Myanmar, this month.


The Initiative will help modernise Myanmar’s labour code, improve compliance with international labour standards, and foster a robust dialogue between the Government, business, labour and civil society in Myanmar (Burma), according to a statement from the White House.


The United States, as part of its efforts to support democratic and economic reforms in Myanmar, is working with the Myanmarese Government and the international community to improve fundamental labour rights and set a strong foundation for sustainable growth and development in the Southeast Asian nation, the statement said.


Under the Initiative, a multilateral, multi-stakeholder approach will be adopted to strengthen labour reform, enforcement, transparency, and domestic stakeholder consultations. 


The Initiative will build on the significant labour law reforms already undertaken in Myanmar, and will support development by the Myanmarese Government, in partnership with the ILO and the Initiative governments, of a multi-year labour reform plan. It will also bring stakeholders into the discussion on labour reforms and build the foundations for good industrial relations and civil society consultations in Myanmar.


In early 2015, a stakeholder forum will be held in Myanmar to provide input on the development of the labour reform plan, and draft the plan through the Labour Law Reform Cluster. The US Department of Labour will provide initial “seed” funding to the ILO to bring on board a labour law expert, who will assist the Government of Myanmar in developing the labour reform plan over the next six months.


By supporting the Government and stakeholders in promoting fundamental labour rights and responsible business practices, the Initiative aims to protect Myanmar’s workers and support its businesses, and thereby make Myanmar an attractive sourcing and investment destination, including apparel sourcing and investment destination, and thus advance Myanmar’s overall sustainable growth and development. (RKS)


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Saturday, November 29, 2014
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