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Posted by on in Business

International textile sector discovers Myanmar

International textile sector discovers Myanmar

Green collars piled to one side, white polo shirts to the other — the young woman handles them with practised ease, creating a precise seam with her humming sewing machine.
The garment in making then goes to the next station, where her co-worker applies a strip of green tape to the short sleeves.
A fan rotates the warm air where 400 women labour eight hours each weekday day – four on Saturday — in the Shweyi Zabe textile plant on the outskirts of Yangon.
“One new factory opened every week in 2014,” Khine Khine Nwe, the secretary of the Myanmar Garment Makers Association (MGMA), tells dpa.
There are currently 200,000 workers in more than 300 factories.
Neighbouring Bangladesh has around 4,000 textile factories.
“In 10 years we want to have 3,000 factories,” she says.
The aim is to increase exports from the current $1 billion  a year 10 times over and to provide a million jobs.
And investors are answering the call.
Chinese, Taiwanese and South Korean companies are flooding into the country.
Shweyi Zabe’s boss Aye Aye Han complains that the competition is luring her workers away by offering a couple of dollars more.
The country is benefiting from the waning star of neighbouring Bangladesh, where the collapse of the Rana Plaza textile factory with more than 1,000 fatalities two years ago drew attention to poor working conditions in garment factories.
The timing is also good in the politics of Myanmar, which is opening up after decades under a closed military dictatorship.
There is a sense of opportunity since a nominally civilian government came to power in 2011.
Garment makers in Myanmar “are evidently in the starting blocks,”
says Thomas Ballweg of a German fashion association.”I see real potential.”
He notes that factories have apparently been well built, with only one or two floors — unlike Rana Plaza with its eight floors.
The workrooms are clean and the supervisors open to ideas.
Christian Maag, who heads the German underwear company ESGE, with plants in Romania, Bulgaria, Greece and India, is helping Shweyi Zabe to modernise production in Myanmar.
ESGE has provided software for production planning and assisted with computer programmes to help cutting to reduce fabric waste.
“We raised our productivity 20 per cent in 2013,” Aye Aye Han says.
But there is a long way to go.
Estimates put Myanmar productivity at half that of China, where production rates are high, but so are wages.
The Verisk Maplecroft consultancy says labour costs are lower in Myanmar than anywhere else in the world.
Clothing companies like Gap, H&M and Adidas are already producing here.
“It’s a kind of development aid, but with a business motivation,”
Maag says.”If things go well, we will place orders.”
A trial run has proved reasonably successful, with scope for expansion, and Maag is convinced that “the textile sector has a future here.”
Smart Myanmar, an EU project, is helping to build up a sustainable textile industry in Myanmar with the aim of secure jobs and good working conditions, along with conserving energy, recycling waste and cutting water consumption.
The head of the project is Simone Lehmann of Sequa, an organisation of German industrial associations with the German GIZ development aid agency.
“Our focus is on small and medium-sized enterprises,” she says.”We are supporting 16 of the 80 factories with local management.”
Lars Droemer, sustainability manager at Swedish fashion company Lindex, is also optimistic on Myanmar.
He praises the code of conduct agreed by the textile sector, which bans employing children younger than 15, guarantees a minimum wage,
restricts working hours to a maximum of 60 hours a week and allows trade unions.
“We are interested in Myanmar, because we were able to help set up the standards from the start,” he says.
Lindex operates according to the principle “People -Planet – Profit,” in that order, he says.
Promoting local industry is part of the sustainability drive.
“Foreign companies take down their factories [and relocate] when operations become cheaper somewhere else, but local employers do not,” Droemer says.
The smaller Myanmar companies have yet to master the full production chain.
At present they sew and package, but the big clients want a complete service, from supplying fabric and thread to dealing with customs and loading for shipment.
The MGMA is working in this direction.”We need textile weaving plants in Myanmar, and our companies need financing, duty-free imports of goods for re-export and we need more trained seamstresses,” Aye Aye Han says.
Ballweg is confident.”Myanmar is today where Bangladesh was 10 years ago,” he says.”But things develop three times more quickly today.” — DPA

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U.S. lifts sanctions on Myanmar businessman

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Thursday that the U.S. has made clear that those sanctioned can seek delisting by demonstrating "they have taken positive steps and changed behavior."

Myanmar, also known as Burma, wants Washington to lift sanctions entirely, but the quasi-civilian government has been criticized for stalling on reforms and detaining peaceful protesters as the Southeast Asian heads toward elections in November.

"We have made clear to the Burmese government that additional changes in U.S. sanctions policy are dependent on the government's continuing its democratic and economic reforms and resolving disputes with members of ethnic groups," Harf said in a statement.

The U.S. administration has looked to promote American investment in Myanmar's untapped market, and Win Aung's blacklisting had caused some awkwardness.

Although he was alleged to have used his close ties to Myanmar's military rulers to build one of the country's biggest business conglomerates, he's supported the country's opening.

Right activists criticized the U.S. when, in 2013, Jose Fernandez, then the assistant secretary of state for economic and business affairs, shook hands with Win Aung, head of the Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry, at an event in Myanmar to promote business ties with the U.S.



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Goldman Environmental Prize honors anti-dam campaign in Myanmar

Goldman Environmental Prize for Myint Zaw

Myint Zaw knew his underground campaign against a huge government-backed hydroelectric project was succeeding when he climbed into a taxi late one night and the driver recognized his voice through the shadows.

"You're the man from the 'Save the Irrawaddy,'" the driver said, referring to a video in which Myint Zaw and other activists argued that the proposed Chinese-led dam project would damage Myanmar's most important river.

Even more astonishing — in a country then ruled by a military junta that strictly controlled the flow of information — the cabbie said he had been so moved by the video that he made dozens of copies and handed out the DVDs to passengers.

"A country like us, we have a lot of ethnicities and a lot of issues dividing people, but when we talk about the Irrawaddy, it's a unifying thing," Myint Zaw said. "Maybe that made people listen more, and want to participate."

In 2011, Myanmar's new government suspended the Myitsone dam project to meet "the wishes of the people." For a country tentatively emerging from five decades of army rule, and heavily dependent on Chinese investment, it was a remarkable concession to the quiet pressure campaign led in part by Myint Zaw, 40, who on Monday was being named a winner of the annual Goldman Environmental Prize, one of the most prestigious honors for green activists.

A self-taught writer who spent a year at the UC Berkeley School of Journalism, he — and fellow environmentalists — found ways around government censorship through the arts, a sphere where the ruling generals had allowed the people of Myanmar, also known as Burma, a little breathing room.

Political meetings were banned and Internet use restricted. But Myint Zaw, working from a cramped Yangon office that doubled as his apartment, in 2009 began organizing art exhibitions and seminars with prominent writers that focused on the topic of water.

He also enlisted the support of the generals' most prominent opponent, Aung San Suu Kyi, who made the campaign a theme of her speeches. "Save the Irrawaddy," a literary event, turned into a forum where experts raised awareness of the threats to the river, the lifeblood of a nation in which 70% of the people are rural farmers.

His campaign is far from over. Myanmar officials have said the decision on whether to resume the Myitsone dam project will rest with the administration that takes power after elections in November, the first nationwide vote since the military rulers ceded some authority to a semi-civilian administration in 2011.

The $3.6-billion undertaking, financed by the state-backed Chinese Power Investment Corp., envisions a 500-foot-tall dam and 3,000-megawatt power plant at the headwaters of the Irrawaddy in northern Myanmar.

About 90% of its electricity would be exported across the border into China's Yunnan province. Activists fear that would give Beijing near-total control of a waterway that irrigates Myanmar's rice farms, feeds a large fishing industry and provides silt for the country's vast southern delta.

State-run Chinese media have published articles calling for the resumption of the project, which is subject to a contract between the two nations whose details have not been made public. For many in Myanmar, however, the dam project was an example of Chinese exploitation of its smaller neighbor — and of development policies by the military leadership that environmentalists say devastated forests and wildlife.

"Because of the lack of transparency in how the project would be operated, there was a very legitimate fear of losing control of this very important river," said Carl Middleton, a professor of international development studies at Chulalongkorn University in Thailand.

The campaign came as President Thein Sein, a former army general, sought to distance Myanmar's transitional democracy from the policies of the past.

"Given China's very close relationship with Myanmar during the military government period, it made it an especially risky project to challenge," Middleton said. "The suspension of the project was a very significant message that there was a major change happening at the higher levels of government."

A soft-spoken man with bushy dark hair and oversized eyeglasses often tucked into his shirt pocket, Myint Zaw did not set out to be an activist. Born in Myanmar's southern delta, where the river splinters into countless streams that meander through rice paddies and thickets of mangroves, he started as a journalist writing on rural issues but found it difficult to get stories past the official censors.

The word "dam" was too sensitive, but words like "reservoir" could be used. Stories about repression in countries such as North Korea were written as parables about Myanmar's own restrictions.

In 2003, he visited mountainous Chin state in western Myanmar, where acres of forests, the prime source of fuel for residents, had been decimated by unchecked logging. Myint Zaw wrote a feature story about how far people had to walk to find firewood — an oblique reference to the destruction.

After studying in Thailand and at Berkeley, he returned to Myanmar in 2008 to help in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, which hammered the delta region and resulted in more than 100,000 deaths. The generals placed strict restrictions on relief efforts, which many experts say worsened the death toll.

Although recent clampdowns on student protests and a military campaign against northern ethnic rebels have raised concerns about Myanmar's democratic transition, Myint Zaw said the country's army establishment has learned the power of public opinion.

"The public is now much more motivated and well-informed than in 2011," he said. "Myitsone will be a hard sell for whoever comes into power, if they want to proceed with it."

Other Goldman Prize winners being announced Monday include Marilyn Baptiste of Canada, Jean Wiener of Haiti, Phyllis Omido of Kenya, Howard Wood of Scotland and Berta Caceres of Honduras.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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Posted by on in Business

Singapore investments soar in Myanmar

SINGAPORE'S investments in Myanmar are soaring, with the amount pumped in by organisations rising 41.5 per cent from 2012 to hit $311.4 million in 2013.

Spending has been particularly strong in the areas of urban development, connectivity and finance, said Ms Lai Shu Ying, the South-east Asia director of trade agency International Enterprise (IE) Singapore.

She attributes this to Myanmar's abundant natural and human resources and its strategic location at the crossroads of India, China and South-east Asia.

The level of investment is striking, given that it has been only three years since Myanmar's economic liberalisation.

And there is more to come, with one in four Asian enterprises planning to expand into Myanmar this year, according to a survey by the United Overseas Bank last year. Singapore was Myanmar's third-largest trading partner in 2013, while bilateral trade was valued at $3.23 billion last year.

The high level of interest led IE Singapore to set up a Yangon office in 2013 to help businesses establish themselves.

One local firm that made the leap is restaurant group Les Amis, which opened two restaurants, House of Singapura and Peperoni Pizzeria, in Yangon last year after it formed a joint venture with a family-owned business in Myanmar.

Les Amis spokesman Raymond Lim likened Myanmar to an "untouched forest", where consumer sectors face minimal competition.

However, an early entrance also meant that the firm had to import extensively to get around the lack of reliable supply chains and decor options.

Its initial investment amounted to nearly $250,000, but Mr Lim said the expansion was a wise move. "Investment-wise, cost isn't prohibitive. We must have a foothold early." Myanmar's consumer base will increase when a middle class and middle-income economy take shape, but how long that will take is uncertain.

Dr Maitrii Aung-Thwin, associate professor of South-east Asian history at the National University of Singapore, said: "Myanmar has changed visibly in the cities, but less so in the countryside. Housing and living costs have gone up, making it difficult for the everyday urban citizen to meet day-to-day expenses."

He urged businesses to acquaint themselves with the country's long-term economic priorities. He said: "My sense is that Singapore companies need to be prepared to expect returns only in the medium to long term."

Ms Lai said: "In this process of transition... some issues for companies in the market concern land ownership, training of local manpower and working around the limitations of physical infrastructure. Singapore companies should take a long-term view when investing in Myanmar and focus on sustainable partnerships that are mutually beneficial."

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Posted by on in Business

MYANMAR: China Threatens To Invade

April 4, 2015: Reformers believe that progress has been made as the new government is no longer a military dictatorship even though the military still retains much political power. Reformers believe that the military will gradually lose this power over the next few years unless the generals stage another coup. But after 49 years of military rule and, since 2011, a taste of democracy, even the generals are not so sure another coup would work. So for the time being there are still plenty of greedy and corrupt generals (and their non-military allies) getting in the way of prosperity and efficient government.  An example of this is the current ceasefire negotiations with the northern rebels. There have been such agreements in the past, which are invariably violated by the army in support of corrupt officials and businessmen who have bribed officers to deal with angry tribesmen fighting against land theft and various other scams inflicted on them. Because the old military government censorship is largely gone news of these scams and the military collusion is getting out and making possible to prosecute and, in a growing number of cases, convict the guilty.

Reformers are also encouraged by the massive (and high reaching) corruption crackdown in China. That’s because in the last decade a major incentive to screw with the northern tribes has been Chinese businesses willing to invest in northern Burma. This required access to and ownership of a lot of traditional tribal lands. The generals were accommodating and this led to wide scale theft of tribal land and forced (often with much bloodshed) over 100,000 tribal people into exile. A lot of the current violence up north is a lingering aftereffect of past government and Chinese mistreatment of the locals. The tribes want justice and with the generals out of power there is a sense that justice might be possible. The end of military rule in 2011 made it possible to more thoroughly and openly investigate how the land scams worked in the north and those results were published. The generals protested but the newly elected government was more sympathetic. 

The tribal north (Shan state) is still the scene of daily clashes between tribal rebels and the army. The military appears unable to shut down the continuing armed resistance. This is very embarrassing for the military and the embarrassment got worse recently when the Wa rebels (UWSA or United Wa State Army) refused to aid the army in fighting the Kokang rebels. The Wa also live in Shan state near the Chinese border. The UWSA is a major factor in Shan state and the Burmese army tends to respect UWSA military capabilities. Half the tribal militiamen in the far north belong to the UWSA, which has about 30,000 armed men operating along the Chinese border. The Wa are ethnic (Han) Chinese (as are most Kogang), and many other Wa live across the border in China. The Chinese have made it clear to the Burmese government that any attack on the Wa would not be appreciated and have pressured the Burmese on behalf of the Wa.

Most of the fighting in the north has been in Shan state where so far this year there have been nearly two thousand casualties among civilians, soldiers, police and rebel fighters. The Kokang tribal rebels of the MNDAA (Myanmar Nationalities Democratic Alliance Army) have been engaged in heavy combat with the army for two months now. The army says the rebels started it when they ambushed a patrol on February 9th and wounded four soldiers. The rebels say the soldiers fired first. That led to more fighting that left at least fifty soldiers dead within a week. Rebels say the army quickly escalated and on the 10th launched three air strikes against rebel positions. All this is actually a resumption of clashes that began in December. By the end of 2014 the army had moved in reinforcements and the Kokang withdrew gradually, continuing to inflict casualties on the soldiers. According to the rebels, soldiers kept advancing and have attacked other rebels groups near the Chinese border as well. The rebels often ambush army trucks bringing in supplies and reinforcements and are expert at ambushing army patrols. The army responds by attacking villages and driving away the families of the rebel fighters, denying the rebels food, medical care and other support. The rebels have struck back by firing on neighborhoods where the families of local policemen live. In response the government has moved these families further south until the fighting is over.

The MNDAA are tribal rebels who used to be more political (communist) but that disappeared in 1989 when the Burmese Communist Party fell apart as a side effect of the collapse of communism in East Europe. MNDAA made peace with the government in 2009 but like most peace deals up north that did not last because the army kept operating in tribal territory. The government refused to recognize the MNDAA as one of the tribal rebel groups negotiating a ceasefire. Sine February 9th, when the fighting with the Kokang rebels began, there have been over a thousand military (army and rebel) casualties along with hundreds of civilian injuries.

The Kokang MNDAA has allies in the north who have also resumed fighting the army. These include the Shan State Army–South (SSA-S). For years the army has fought the SSA-S for key terrain, usually to control roads that supply and troops and everyone else. The army has also been trying to interfere with the tribal drug operations up north. The SSA-S is allied with the neighboring Wa and these two groups are making a lot of money producing and smuggling drugs. Opium and heroin production have been revived in the past few years. Production of methamphetamine is huge. Called "yaba" ("crazy drug") locally, most of it is smuggled out via Thailand. Over the last few years, production of yaba tablets has soared. The meth labs are easier to conceal than poppy fields (opium is the sap of poppy plants) and the meth labs are believed to produce several hundred million tablets a year. The tribal rebels, especially the Wa use the profits to buy more weapons for their fighters, and run their rebel organizations. The government has been in a weak bargaining position here but always had the option to declare the militias in violation of the 2012 peace deal and officially renew the fighting. That declaration has not happened yet. TNLA (Taang National Liberation Army) rebels in nearby Shan state as well as the KIA (Kachin) rebels also support the Kokang rebels. These three groups provide most of the armed opposition to the army in the Chinese border area. Rebels remain active here because China is a major market for heroin and other drugs produced in the north. China is also the source of all the military equipment the rebels need. At the moment the Chinese are not happy with the Burmese Army because the months of army activity has pushed nearly 100,000 refugees into China and disrupted trade (both legal, illegal and semi-legal).

The India has joined Burma in pressuring China to do something about the continued shipments of Chinese weapons to tribal rebels in northern Burma and northeast India. China denies this is happening and points out that many rebels, especially the Wa army has long used Chinese weapons they bought from illegal dealers in China and then smuggled into Burma. China also points out that Burmese troops also use Chinese weapons. Burma and India counter that the rebels in both countries are using weapons China did not sell to the Burmese Army. Moreover these Chinese weapons (often older and cheaper designs) are showing up worldwide in the hands of rebels, terrorists and gangsters. The point here is that China is looking the other way as a huge illegal arms sales and smuggling operation goes about its business. China is in the midst of a major corruption crackdown so these complaints from Burma and India might be addressed this time around.

April 2, 2015: The government officially apologized to China for the death of five Chinese civilians hit by a bomb from a Burmese warplane on March 13th. The Burmese aircraft thought it was attacking rebels on the Burmese side of the border. The Burmese government denied this accident at first but after about a week (and Chinese movement of warplanes to their side of the border along with threats of retaliation) the Burmese officials realized the truth and apologized unofficially. It took a while to get the formal apology composed to the satisfaction of the Chinese.

March 30, 2015: The government and 16 tribal rebel groups agreed on a draft of a nationwide ceasefire agreement. The rebel groups have to ratify the draft before starting to negotiate a final agreement for signing. This draft does not cover the heavy fighting that has been going in Shan State (near the Chinese border) with the Kokang (MNDAA) tribal rebels. This group is considered renegade even though the MNDAA still has close ties with several rebel groups that are part of the ceasefire negotiations.

March 25, 2015: In the northeast (Shan state) two explosions were heard in an army base and the army later reported that tribal rebels had fired two mortar shells into the base. No details of damage or casualties were released.

March 23, 2015: The air force launched another attack on Kokang rebels in the north (Shan State).

March 21, 2015: In the northeast (Shan state) soldiers took another hilltop position long occupied by the Kokang rebels. There were nearly fifty casualties during the final push to the top of the hill. The soldiers have the advantage of numbers, artillery and air power (for bombing and observation).

March 20, 2015: President Thein Sein openly admitted that the military would retain their political power for a while but would eventually lose it.

March 19, 2015: In the northeast (Shan state) the air force resumed attacking the rebels. The air force had halted operations up there after a Burmese warplane crossed the border by mistake and killed five Chinese with a bomb on the 13th.

March 18, 2015: In the northeast an army patrol in Shan state was attacked by five different groups of MNDAA tribal rebels. Three rebels and 13 soldiers died. The army claims to have seized drugs the rebels were seeking to smuggle into Thailand but the rebels denied that.

March 16, 2015: The army began negotiations with 16 tribal rebel groups with the aim of working out a nationwide ceasefire.

March 15, 2015: China threatened to respond militarily if there was another Burmese air force attack inside China.

March 14, 2015: China issued a formal protest over the Burmese air strike in China yesterday.

March 13, 2015: A Burmese warplane strayed into China and killed five (and wounded eight) Chinese with a bomb. According to local Chinese this was the third such bombing in the last week but the first one to cause any Chinese casualties. Burmese artillery shells have also landed on the Chinese side of the border.

March 10, 2015: For the second time in a week police used force and arrests to break up a large student protest. The latest round of police action led to the arrest of over a hundred demonstrators. These demonstrations have been going on since September 2014 and are directed at the new National Education Law. Despite police crackdowns the number of demonstrations has grown as more people come out to support the original student protestors.  The government outlawed the protests but the students and their growing number of supporters have not backed down, even in the face of soldiers now with “shoot to kill” orders. The police have also used an old (in Burma) technique of hiring pro-government protestors to confront the anti-government protestors and to sometimes start brawls. This has not worked either as the students keep showing up in the streets despite injuries and losses from arrests. The government fears student demonstrations that cannot be shut down because in the past this sort of thing has toppled governments.  This all started because students believe the new education law gives the government more political control over higher education and makes it easier to prosecute those who speak out against the government. Many Burmese agree with the students and feel that the new democracy is just the old military dictatorship with rigged elections (and rigged everything else).

March 9, 2015: Chinese and Burmese officials met on the border (in Shan State) to work out procedures to prevent the fighting (between soldiers and rebels) in Shan State did not spill over into China.

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Monday, April 27, 2015
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