|News Headlines - July 23, 2012|
July 23, 2012
A New Era Of Openness In Myanmar (Burma)
Posted: 07/23/2012 8:00 am
I've waited for nearly three decades for this moment in history. A new era of openness and optimism is dawning in Myanmar (Burma), akin to what Europe experienced at the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. My company has run trips to Burma since the 1980s, and I have been visiting regularly since that time, but I have never seen anything like this.
The country is transforming before our eyes, from democratic institutions taking root to foreign travelers being allowed access to areas that were formerly off limits. It's just an astonishing time to be there.
In a spirit of celebration and exploration, my company, Asia Transpacific Journeys, is launching a brand new departure that will go to Burma's furthest reaches. It's called On Burma's Frontiers, and it goes where no tour operator has gone before -- to extremely remote destinations in the west, including visits tribal villages and a luxurious cruise on a remote section of the Irrawaddy River.
Travelers will also join an amazing celebration with roots that pre-date Buddhism. Locals fashion elaborate paper balloons -- some the size of a house -- into the shape of elephants, fish, dragons, ducks, oxen and lanterns. Many are elaborately painted. At night they are lit to wondrous effect with hundreds of votive candles. As the balloons float away, long fuses set off a payload of fireworks carried in the balloon, a spectacular sight. This festival is still quite off the radar. In 2009, we were the only foreigners present.
It seems my three-decade long wait has paid off. But even more gratifying is seeing the joy take hold in country. I have long-time Burmese friends who have waited for this moment all their lives. It's really a golden moment, a time to rejoice -- and explore.
Burma Eyes Overtaking Cambodia, Laos Economically
July 24, 2012
Burma hopes to overtake neighbors Laos and Cambodia in terms of average income per person within two to three years, as the country embraces political and economic reforms, Burmese Industry Minister Soe Thein said Monday.
“I hope we will have higher average income per person than Laos and Cambodia by 2014-15. It is possible,” he said in an interview with RFA’s Burmese service.
Soe Thein was answering a question on his expectations for the Burmese economy in the next five years.
Burma: Pagodas and temples in present-day Pagan (Bagan), the capital of the Pagan Kingdom
Burma is languishing with a gross national income per capita of U.S. $379.60, based on U.N. figures in 2009, the lowest among its fellow member states in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)—Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Laos has a per capita income of U.S. $1,130 while Cambodia has U.S. $830, based on 2011 figures by the World Bank.
The gross national income per capita is the dollar value of a country’s final income in a year, divided by its population. It reflects the average income of a country’s citizens.
A nominally civilian government that took over power in Burma in March last year after decades of harsh military rule and financial mismanagement is implementing democratic and economic reforms that have led the international community to ease sanctions on the country.
As part of economic reforms, President Thein Sein’s government, with the help of the International Monetary Fund, launched a managed float of its kyat currency in April to help normalize and unify its multiple exchange rates.
Foreign investment law
The country’s parliament is also discussing a foreign investment law, which reports say will spell out new tax exemptions, land-use terms, legal structures, and incentives for foreign companies.
“Our existing law [on trade] are already good. But to be able to compete with [neighboring] ASEAN [countries] and to protect the people, to protect our environment, we are drafting the new law,” Soe Thein said.
“Actually it was already discussed at the parliament in the first session, and now this is going to be discussed again,” he said.
When asked when the much awaited law will be approved, he said, “It doesn’t matter, it will be done at some point.”
“Even if this is not done yet, the existing foreign direct investment law is not bad at all. We can apply it for now. When the new law is approved, we can enjoy better benefits.”
Soe Thein said Burmese authorities will treat foreign companies on an equal basis based on market forces even though Burma has been close to China for decades especially under military rule.
“This is a market economy. Local partners will choose. If we consider efficiency, let’s say if you buy something, you choose a good product. In business, you have to choose the best partner,” he said.
Asked whether foreign investments are flowing into Burma rapidly in line with reforms, he said there could be a significant rise early next year.
“We are going to have it. For now, we are still in the process of discussing. I myself have been discussing many times already. It will be a lot more progress by the beginning of next year, I think. Meanwhile, there is some increase.”
On potential employment benefits, the minister said some 110,000 jobs had been created over the last year with a potential for one million jobs when the government enters into peace with ethnic armed rebel groups.
“When the peace process is done, we will have more job opportunities in the [ethnic] regions [through the efforts of] international donors. Creating jobs is considered the number one criteria. We choose factories that can provide more jobs. Eventually we will have up to a million [jobs].”
The government has struck ceasefire agreements with several ethnic armed groups but their leaders said that the ceasefire is just the first step of a process that must include political solutions.
Clashes have been reported regularly in Shan state, Karenni state, Karen state and most notably in Kachin state, where rebels have not reached a truce despite several rounds of negotiations.
Reported by Kyaw Kyaw Aung. Translated by Khim May Zaw. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.
Ansar Burney to visit Burma
Tuesday, July 24, 2012
ISLAMABAD: The United Nations former expert adviser on human rights and Chairman of Ansar Burney Trust International, Ansar Burney has said that alarming reports of Muslims massacre and communal violence is grinding on in western Myanmar and Muslim Rohingyas are increasingly being hit with targeted attacks that have included killings, rape and physical abuse and such reports are creating confusion in international community and human rights organisation.
In a press release on Monday, Burney said the four members team of Ansar Burney Trust International has already applied for visa to go to Rakhine, Myanmar on a fact-finding mission and to help crying and dying humanity.
Ansar Burney in this regard appreciated the announcement of US ambassador to Myanmar for a donation of $3 million in food aid to northern areas of the country affected by fighting between troops and ethnic militias.
Burney said that the Ambassador Derek Mitchell announced at the US Embassy on Friday that the $3 million food aid donation for displaced people in Shan and Kachin states in northern Myanmar would be delivered through the UN World Food Programme.
The Ansar Burney Trust accused security forces and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists of Muslims massacre and carrying out new attacks against Muslim Rohingyas in Myanmar. “The Myanmar government declared a state of emergency on June 10, deploying army troops to quell the unrest and protect both mosques and monasteries but attacks on Muslims and mosques are continuing under the umbrella of army and government,” Ansar Burney added.
He said the Burney Trust believes that ethnic and religious cleansing against innocent Muslims under whatever pretext is unjustifiable and inexcusable under international law, and demanded with the United Nations that UN must take urgent measures to protect the Rohingyas Muslims massacre by calling on Myanmar’s government to end its crackdown.
Ansar Burney said that almost 800,000 Rohingya Muslims live in Myanmar. Thousands attempt to flee every year to Bangladesh, Malaysia and elsewhere in the region to escape a life of abuse that rights groups say includes slavery, forced labour, violence against women and restrictions on movement, marriage and reproduction.
Burma Road chip sealing to begin Tuesday
The middle section of Burma Road, a portion of which is pictured here, will have a chip coating applied beginning tomorrow, according to the Fremont County Road and Bridge Department. (Ernie Over photo)
(Riverton, Wyo.) – The Fremont County Transportation Department said Friday the chip sealing on the new portion of Burma Road north of the city will begin on Tuesday. Construction of the middle part of the roadway, from Zuber Road north to the Paradise Valley Road, was completed late last fall. The road’s speed limit was reduced to 45 mph and double yellow lines were painted on the new section, prohibiting any passing.
“When we get the chip sealing done, the speed limit will go back up to 55 mph, and we’ll have passing areas,” said James Gores and Associates Engineer David Knoepke. “The new pavement is real slick in winter snow or summer rain events, that’s why we reduced the speed limit and did the double yellow. It was all about keeping motorists safe.”
After the chip coating is completed, the new route will be striped on Friday.
How companies can rewrite Burma's story and avoid a repeat of history
Guardian Professional, Monday 23 July 2012 09.35 EDT
A Burmese fisherman ... the US says it's ready to ease the ban on American companies investing in or offering financial services to Burma. Photograph: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
As one considers the temporary lifting of EU sanctions against Burma, and the implicit opening up for foreign businesses eager to operate there, it is perhaps inevitable that the largely positive political rhetoric surrounding the country, its seemingly reform-minded government and Aung San Suu Kyi, will soon be forgotten. Stories about resources, wealth distribution, tackling poverty and socio-economic investment may soon drift off the radar, to be replaced by trending news about Burma's GDP, car ownership, exports and rising wealth. If business news is going to dominate, then now is an opportune time to reshape this rhetoric; from consumption and profit patterns to the role of business in contributing to the socio-economic development.
To do this requires a brief historical step back. If today's market entry issues are not understood there is little to stop Burma becoming the new Cambodia or Vietnam – the next low cost manufacturing base in South East Asia, as a rush to the bottom ensues, with little in the way of a diverse labour sector.
The late 1990s, when the apparel manufacturing industry entered Cambodia, was marked by significant labour unrest, challenging wage and working conditions, nascent social dialogue, and international media scrutiny of the country.
The market entry considerations of the 1990s are no longer applicable. Today companies need to marry their business risk with their own pre-existing social, environmental and governance indicators; entering a country like Burma requires serious considerations and commitments to responsible corporate practice.
The question is what manufacturing companies can do to support development beyond low cost manufacturing – and what does Burma need to do to attract it?
Business conduct will no doubt be an important factor in the country's development trajectory. Business has to start as it means to continue. Companies need to establish and make public responsible investment criteria that guides whether and how an investment is made. A crucial starting point is the government as a partner or enabler, starting with the passage of the foreign investment law, which is likely to come by the end of July or early August.
It's important to recognise that though the government doesn't want Burma to become a low cost manufacturing hub they have a long way to go. A recent Asian Development Bank study shows that even if the country's GDP grows by 8-9% a year, it will take 30 years to catch up to Thailand. Yet government needs to set the right direction and business needs to go in with a medium-long term view.
Burma is likely to start out as a low cost hub, but its overall trajectory could be towards higher value-add, better paying jobs and a diversified labour market. Writing as someone who has spent several decades working in low-cost manufacturing hubs in South East Asia, I look at Burma through this lens; ample resources and very little in the way of application of the rule of law. Raising the profile of market entry issues acts like a filter; it raises key considerations for companies to think about whether or not they are indeed committed to responsible entry now or in the future. If they are, they will play a role in reshaping Burma's story.
Thailand, Myanmar back ambitious port project
Posted: 23 July 2012 1705 hrs
Myanmar's President Thein Sein (L) meets Thai PM Yingluck Shinawatra at Government House in Bangkok, Thailand. (AFP PHOTO/POOL/RUNGROJ YONGRIT)
BANGKOK: Thailand and Myanmar pledged on Monday to press ahead with a multi-billion-dollar deep sea port project and to open new border crossings during summit talks focused on strengthening economic ties.
The Dawei development on Myanmar's southern Andaman coast is a key part of the impoverished country's plans to transform its economy, giving neighbours such as Thailand an outlet to the Indian Ocean and markets to the West.
But the project - led by Thai industrial giant Ital-Thai - has faced resistance from local villagers and there have been signs of funding troubles.
The two countries signed a memorandum of understanding on the development of a special economic zone for Dawei, with Thailand agreeing to provide assistance in areas including security, infrastructure and logistics.
Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra told reporters after talks with visiting President Thein Sein on a twice-postponed trip to Bangkok that the two nations would set up ministerial-level contacts to address related issues.
"In our talks, I reaffirmed the commitment of the Thai government to push forward with this cooperation with Myanmar in regard to the development of the Dawei deep sea port to have concrete progress," Yingluck said.
The Dawei project would include a 250-square-kilometre industrial area with a steel mill, petrochemical plant and oil refinery. The Thai developer insists all is going to plan.
It is among a number of ambitious foreign-funded projects which started before the long-ruling junta handed over power last year to a new quasi-civilian government whose ranks are filled with former generals.
But doubts about the port development grew after Myanmar's government earlier this year blocked a 4,000-megawatt coal-fired plant that was to be built at Dawei.
On Sunday Thein Sein inspected the Laem Chabang deep-sea port on Thailand's Gulf Coast, which is to be connected by road to Dawei, shortening the current sea route around the Malay Peninsula.
The two leaders also agreed to open three new border crossings between the two countries - in Chiang Mai, Mae Hong Son and Kanchanaburi - in addition to three existing official checkpoints.
Thein Sein described the talks as "friendly" and said he had thanked Thailand for its support and "reiterated our determination to continue our reforms".
Thailand and other Asian nations forged close economic ties with Myanmar during years of Western sanctions against the former pariah that are now beginning to be rolled back in response to dramatic political reforms.
Thein Sein delayed a visit to Thailand in May that clashed with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's appearance at the World Economic Forum on East Asia in Bangkok, in her first overseas excursion in more than two decades.
The Myanmar leader again postponed the trip in early June.
Sweeping cooperation deal with Myanmar
THE NATION July 24, 2012 1:00 am
Thailand and Myanmar yesterday agreed to set up a ministerial-level working group to implement comprehensive economic cooperation, particularly on achieving concrete progress in the Thai-invested Dawei seaport and economic zone.
The working group - details on the structure and components of which are not yet known - will hold its first meeting next month, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said.
It will look into issues related to the development of the Dawei project, including the securing of additional land needed for the development, taking into account the interests of communities living in and around the project areas, she said.
Italian-Thai Development is committed to investing at least Bt300 billion in the first phase of the project, which would provide Thailand with a short cut to the Indian Ocean and Myanmar with a gateway to mainland Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
The project has come to the attention of the two governments as the private sector has made slow progress on the development because of financial constraints and a lack of strong political commitment from previous governments.
Thailand has highlighted economic cooperation during Myanmar President Thein Sein's current three-day official visit in a bid to support ongoing reforms in the country as well as for the benefit of regional connectivity.
Thein Sein expressed his appreciation to Thailand for supporting his efforts on political and economic reform as part of Myanmar's transition to democracy, and reiterated his determination to continue them.
The discussion with Yingluck focused on cooperation on capacity and institution building in Myanmar, strengthening cooperation on economic reforms to enhance people's livelihoods, and enhancing transport connectivity between the two countries, including the link between Dawei deep-sea port and Thailand's Eastern Seaboard, he said.
Yingluck reaffirmed the Thai government's commitment to push forward cooperation with Myanmar on the development of Dawei deep-sea port.
"In this connection, the two sides agreed there would be connectivity between Dawei deep-sea port and Laem Chabang seaport in Thailand. This is in the joint interests of Thailand and Myanmar and in the interest of the region," Yingluck told a joint press conference after a meeting with Thein Sein yesterday at Government House.
Thein Sein and his delegation visited Laem Chabang deep-sea port and an industrial estate in eastern Chon Buri province on Sunday, the first day of his trip.
The Myanmar president was accompanied by many ministers including those responsible for energy; commerce; economic planning and development; agriculture; and foreign affairs.
After a panel meeting between Yingluck and Thein Sein, concerned ministers signed three documents to forge cooperation on economic matters.
The documents are a memorandum of understanding on the comprehensive development in Dawei special economic zone and related projects in the area, an MoU on development cooperation in Myanmar, and a joint statement on the establishment of an energy forum.
The MoU on development cooperation involves Thai support for human-resource capacity-building in Myanmar; the readiness of Myanmar to take the Asean chairmanship in 2014; economic reform; sustainable development; and infrastructure development, Yingluck said.
She vowed enhanced cooperation to boost economic development in the border areas of the two countries. She also proposed the opening of three permanent border checkpoints in Kanchanaburi's Ban Pu Nam Ron, Mae Hong Son's Ban Huay Ton Noon and Chiang Mai's Kew Pa Wok to connect to Myanmar's Pyathuangsu, Kayah State and Shan State respectively.
Thailand also wants to open a temporary border checkpoint at Kanchanaburi's Ban Tako Bon to facilitate trade between the two countries and improve living conditions for local people, she said.
Underaged Myanmar maids working in S'pore
In 2005, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) set a requirement that all foreign maids in Singapore must be at least 23 years old.
In 2010, MOM issued warnings to 14 employment agents for bringing in underage maids. Four were also issued with demerit points, which put them at risk of losing their licences.
It is unclear how many underage Myanmar maids are in Singapore.
Four Singapore agents who spoke to the paper said they have been recommended some underage women by recruitment middlemen in Myanmar this year.
They said their suspicions were roused after seeing some of the girls' photos. The recruiters were unable to produce any birth or education certificates for these girls.
One agent received a Myanmar maid two weeks ago who claimed to be 23 years old. However after some investigations, she later revealed that she is only 16 years old and was repatriated immediately.
Ms Cherry Aung, a Singapore-based recruiter, told the paper that she always carries out strict checks but noted that local companies are becoming more lax so the middlemen are taking advantage of this and sending underage girls.
She added that Myanmar agents are aware that Singapore agents are trying to meet the demand for maids caused by the wrangling of fees with Indonesian recruiters during the past few months.
The English daily also said that the Myanmar Embassy is monitoring the issue.
There are currently 206,000 maids here with the majority from Philippines and Indonesia, and only an estimated 10,000 are from Myanmar.
Myanmar maids earn about $400 and $420 a month in Singapore, according to the report.
Mr Tin Maung Win said the issue of underage domestic workers stems from Myanmar laws which prohibits women from leaving the country to work as maids and in the entertainment industry.
The secretary at Varadhatus Ratanarama Association which provides counselling to Myanmar workers locally explained that women are able to leave Myanmar as tourists and the officials do not verify their ages.
Myanmar workers in Singapore also revealed that government officials there can be bribed to forge ages on passport documents.
Myo Myo, a Myanmese maid in Singapore, said she was 16 years old when paid $400 to have her passport age forged as a 24-year-old with the help of a recruiter who was a family friend.
Under the Employment Agency Licensing Conditions, the agents are responsible to ensure that maids brought into Singapore meet MOM's entry requirements.
Indonesia, VN, Myanmar offers SME opportunities
THE NATION July 24, 2012 1:00 am
Myanmar, Vietnam and Indonesia are attractive for Thai investors, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises, economists and business leaders said yesterday.
Aat Pisanwanich, dean of economics at the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, said Yangon was the most appealing region in Myanmar for Thai investors, especially SMEs engaged in Thai restaurants, spas, hotels and tourism. Mandalay is another big city that could accommodate investment from Thailand.
The jewellery industry should check out opportunities in precious-stone cutting, he told the "TMB Borderless on Stage 2012" seminar.
The food industry may also look at Dawei in the southern part of the country where a deep-sea port will be constructed by Ital-Thai, he said. SMEs in the textile and furniture industries should also think about moving their production base from Thailand to Myanmar to take advantage of lower labour costs.
The threats are inadequate electricity supplies, poor telecommunication service, high logistics costs, the remaining trade sanctions and low consumer income. "However, if Thai firms wait until everything is put in place, they will not be able to compete with other foreign firms that are now moving into the country," he said.
Another interesting country is Indonesia, where the middle class comprises about 50 million people now and is estimated to grow to 150 million over five years out of a population of 250 million currently. So the market there is huge, Aat said.
Aswin Techajareonvikul, president of Berli Jucker (BJC), said Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam (CLMV) were more interesting for Thai SMEs than Indonesia, where there are already large players and Thai firms may find it hard to compete.
BJC now has glass-bottle and canned-food plants and a product-distribution operation in Vietnam. Over the next three years, it will focus on expanding its business in CLMV.
The firm could help Thai SMEs that want to market their products in these countries, where the combined population is more than 170 million.
The CLMV market is growing as they have young populations that want to consume more and adopt new lifestyles, Aswin said.
Thai companies should go into trading in small countries such as Laos and Cambodia instead of manufacturing, he added.
Wichitra Chalermchaichana, an economist at the university, said Thai restaurants could enter Vietnam as Thai cuisine is gaining popularity. A few Thai restaurants have already opened branches there.
However, land prices in prime areas are very high, so SMEs may choose to form joint ventures with local partners. Thai SMEs are expected to take advantage of the AEC, which will come into fruition in 2015, she added.
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Release All Political Prisoners and Stop War in Burma
Lifting Sanctions on Burma's Regime would be a Mistake
Mr. Sa Long
New Delhi, India