Myanmar Clippings | March 8-20, 2013

Top Story: Myanmar to Sign New York Convention

TOP STORIES:
+ Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) launched a set of frequently asked questions in response to numerous queries from Business and others. The FAQ's cover issues like the reporting requirements and the SDN List. OFAC also launched an improved tool for searching the SDN list.  

+ Myanmar's Parliament agreed to sign the New York Convention, which, once enforced, will allow foreign investors to use a neutral arbitration center outside Myanmar and have the ability to enforce rulings from outside the country.

+ Myanmar's parliament stated it would begin the process of reviewing the constitution of 2008. Among other things, the current constitution bars those with family members who hold foreign passports from serving as President and Vice President. This prohibition affects NLD Leader Aung San Suu Kyi, among others.  

+ Assistant Secretary of State Jose Fernandez made remarks on Burma in Singapore and Bangkok

For more information on the Council's Myanmar program, please contact Anthony Nelson at anelson@usasean.organd Wanlapa "Fon" Komkai at fwanlapa@usasean.org.

IN THIS UPDATE:
Defense & Securty
+ US urges Myanmar to end military ties with N Korea
+ Myanmar: Ban encourages parties to reach ceasefire to end conflict in Kachin
+ New Frontline Discussed in Kachin Peace Talks
+ Army Prevents Kachin Peace Marchers from Reaching Laiza

Economics
Myanmar parliament finalises rules on foreign ownership of firms
Myanmar drafting law for foreign workers, but locals say they are being short changed
Former Myanmar nationals reap benefits of economic reforms
Burma Govt Bank Plans to Increase Loans to SMEs
Myanmar: credit card market hots up
+ US Envoy to Burma Says Peace Needed if Sanctions Are to Be Lifted
+ Rubber price drop continues in Myanmar due to less export demand
+ Burma is Open for Business, Says Minister
+ Xpress Money, Myanmar Citizens Bank plan joint venture
+ Burma Business Roundup
+ Tax Rise Plans Prompt Worries Over Wasteful Spending, Transparency
EU pledges financial aid for Myanmar

Energy
+Offshore oil and natural gas fields to call tender in April
+ Investigation Commission's final report comes under fire from local people
+ Suu Kyi draws rare rancor over Myanmar mine report
+ Myanmar protesters hit by police crackdown outraged over report that supports mine operations 
Myanmar loosens grip on oil sector
Burma's oil rush: 'Nothing else in this country gives you money like this

 Food & Agriculture
+ Private sector to grow teak on 1,700 acres in protected forest area
+ Myanmar Makro to sue ministry

Foreign Affairs
First US search since 2004 for MIAs in Myanmar ends
+ Surge in Intl Aid Could Hinder Burma's Progress: Study
+ UN Ranks Burma among 3 Least Developed Asian Nations
Leadership choices Myanmar's internal issue
+ Local Authorities Still Wary of Foreign Visitors

National Affairs
+ Myanmar parliament to review controversial constitution
+ Journalists Call on Burma to Scrap Controversial Press Law
+ Activists, Locals Reject Letpadaung Inquiry
Myanmar Admits Phosphorous Usage In Mine Protest Crackdown
+ Court Rejects Complaint against President over Protest Raid
+ Burma NLD Conference Inspires Cambodia Opposition Leader
+ Myanmar Opposition Leader Vows Party Reform
+ Myanmar parliament agrees on signing New York convention to attract investment

 Customs
+ Mekong countries to integrate transport links
+ Customs duty and commercial tax doubles, the commerce ministry says
+ Myanmar trade volume increases

ICT
+ Telecom project sparks protest as it damages farms 
Google's Schmidt to visit Myanmar, an untapped telecoms market

 Health & Life Sciences
+ Myanmar to regulate foreign doctors
 
Defense and Security

US urges Myanmar to end military ties with N Korea: The Myanmar Times, March 15
The United States will continue to urge Myanmar to end its military relationship with North Korea, a senior official said on March 14. Patrick Murphy, the US Special Representative and Policy Coordinator for Myanmar said that he hopes that the US will soon be in a position to "accept a declaration that the military relationship between the two countries [North Korea and Myanmar] has been severed". Murphy, who is in Myanmar as part of a three country visit with stops in Bangladesh and Japan, said that the US and Myanmar are engaged in a productive discussion over the issue.

Myanmar: Ban encourages parties to reach ceasefire to end conflict in Kachin: UN News Center, March 14
 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today welcomed the outcome of the recent discussions in China between Myanmar's peacemaking committee and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and their agreement to work toward a lasting ceasefire. "The Secretary-General encourages the parties to reach a ceasefire and to redouble their efforts toward a fair, genuine and durable solution so that all of Myanmar can achieve peace for the first time since the country's independence," said a statement issued by Mr. Ban's spokesperson.

New Frontline Discussed in Kachin Peace Talks: The Irrawaddy, March 12 
The Burmese government and Kachin rebels opened discussions on establishing a new frontline between their armies during negotiations in China on Monday. Kachin leaders rejected calls from the government for an immediate ceasefire during the talks in the Chinese border town of Ruili, saying they needed more assurances from the government. They first hope to establish new boundaries to show which areas are controlled by government forces and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

Army Prevents Kachin Peace Marchers from Reaching Laiza: The Irrawaddy, March 12
Dozens of Kachin peace activists and monks on a march to Laiza from Myingyan in Magwe Division have been prevented from reaching the besieged stronghold of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) by Burmese government forces. The peace campaigners set out on the march to urge the government to stop the fighting in Kachin State, where conflict between the Burmese army and the KIO's armed wing has raged since June 2011 and intensified near Laiza toward the end of last year.

Economics

Myanmar parliament finalises rules on foreign ownership of firms: Irrawaddy, March 20
Burma's Parliament has rejected a proposal to limit foreign ownership of businesses in certain sectors to 49 percent, voting to confirm a limit of 80 percent set in January under a new investment law approved last November, official media said.
 
The decision, taken on Monday, will cover investment in sectors deemed sensitive, including agriculture and businesses that could affect the environment, the Myanma Alin daily reported on Tuesday. In other sectors, foreign firms will be able to set up ventures without the need for a local partner.

Myanmar drafting law for foreign workers, but locals say they are being short changed: Eleven Myanmar, March 19
A law to govern foreign labour is now being drafted because Myanmar has no clear policies to manage foreign workers, said Myo Aung, chief director of Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security. "We are beginning to draft a law for foreign labour in order to impose a proper policy on foreign labour. It is difficult to control them since the conditions in their countries and Myanmar are different," Mao Aung said, explaining that foreigners working in Myanmar are doing so with the permission of the Myanmar Investment Commission.

Former Myanmar nationals reap benefits of economic reforms: Channel News Asia, March 19
Former Myanmar nationals turned Singaporeans are now making use of their knowledge and language skills to set up businesses in their country of origin. Aside from reaping the benefits for themselves, Singaporean companies may stand to gain from this as well. Having lived in Singapore for some 15 years, Maung Maung Myint became a Singaporean in 2008. The 41-year-old has now returned to Myanmar to set up his own company.

Burma Govt Bank Plans to Increase Loans to SMEs: Irrawaddy, March 19
The Burmese government's SME Bank wants to increase its total capital to about US $40 million in order to expand its lending to small and medium enterprises, the bank's advisor San Thein told The Irrawaddy. Speaking on the sidelines of a SME forum in Rangoon on Sunday, he said, "We are planning to run more than 5 billion kyat [$5.8 million] plus 30 billion kyat [$34.8 million] in this first round of a microfinance project supported by Myanma Economic Bank," which is another state-owned commercial bank. He said annual interest rates would also be lowered from 13 percent to 8.5 percent for three-year loans to small and medium enterprises.

Myanmar: credit card market hots up: FT, March 18
In Myanmar, southeast Asia's latest golden investment opportunity, being in first wins headlines for foreign companies, as Coca-Cola and Standard Chartered have recently shown. But as payment networks MasterCard and Visa have discovered, it doesn't guarantee a lead over the competition. For the growing number of repeat visitors to Myanmar, including business people, foreign government officials and aid workers, the tedium of carrying massive wads of cash is the price of doing business in Myanmar. Not only that, but under unspoken rules observed by nearly all hotels, shops and businesses, the cash must be pristine US dollars.

US Envoy to Burma Says Peace Needed if Sanctions Are to Be Lifted: The Irrawaddy, March 15
The full suspension of sanctions imposed on Burma by the United States hinges on addressing ongoing US concerns over ethnic conflicts, the release of political prisoners and an end to the country's longstanding ties with North Korea, the US special representative for Burma W. Patrick Murphy said in an interview in Rangoon on Thursday. "It is going to require action here in the country," he said. "The completion of efforts to release political prisoners, to ensure human rights for all in the country, whether citizen or not, to achieve national reconciliation and to sever the military relationship with North Korea."

Rubber price drop continues in Myanmar due to less export demand: Eleven Myanmar March 13
Myanmar rubber price has dropped further down to 600 kyats (US70cent) per pound, as its demand from China, EU and other countries fell, according to Myanmar Rubber Planters and Producers Association (MRPPA).The rubber export price has been falling since last year. It has plummeted from above US$3500 per tonne last year to US$3000 now, subsequently causing local prices drop. "Demand [for Myanmar rubber] from China and EU has dropped, leading to a fall in both local and export prices," Khine Myint, Secretary of MRPPA, said.

Burma is Open for Business, Says Minister: The Irrawaddy, March 12 
As the National League for Democracy concluded its first ever congress by confirming Aung San Suu Kyi as its leader, Dr Kan Zaw, the minster for national planning and economic development, said Burma's "doors are open" for business. Kan Zaw made the comments at a meeting of business leaders last weekend in Vietnam hosted by the Vietnamese and Brunei governments, which was endorsed by the European Union.

Xpress Money, Myanmar Citizens Bank plan joint venture: Eleven Myanmar, March 12
UK-based Xpress Money Transferring services and Myanmar Citizens Bank have signed Memorandum of Understanding about possible joint venture, according to statement from the Myanmar Citizens Bank. Myanmar Citizens Bank is formerly owned by Ministry of Commerce and now it was transformed into a private bank. Xpress Money, a world leading money transferring company, is making services in 150 countries.

Burma Business Roundup: The Irrawaddy, March 9
Two major American hotel brands plan to add Rangoon to their international hotels chain in developments which will change the city's skyline. Hilton Worldwide has signed an agreement to take on the management of a 300-room 21-story hotel being built by LP Holding Company as part of major development called Centrepoint Towers which includes an office suites tower and shops.

Tax Rise Plans Prompt Worries Over Wasteful Spending, Transparency: The Irrawaddy, March 8
The Burmese government will increase taxes in the coming fiscal year in a bid to raise an additional 461 billion kyat (US $577 million), the Ministry of Finance said earlier this week.
But critics of the announcement said the additional funds should be spent on social programs, rather than on military equipment and fancy cars, which they allege is the goal of the government.

EU pledges financial aid for Myanmar: Bangkok Post, March 5
Thein Sein, on the first-ever visit to Brussels by a Myanmar president, received on Tuesday new pledges of EU economic assistance coupled with calls to protect his country's ethnic minorities. The Myanmar leader, setting out on the fourth leg of an historic 10-day tour of Europe, met successively with European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso, EU president Herman Van Rompuy, and foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
 
"You have in the European Union a committed and longterm partner for the historic journey that Myanmar and its people have started," Van Rompuy told Thein Sein, who was warnmly welcomed all round for his ground-breaking reforms in the once pariah state.

Energy

Offshore oil and natural gas fields to call tender in April: Eleven Myanmar March 15
The Ministry will call for international tender for over 20 offshore oil and natural gas fields in April, Htay Aung, Head of Office for Ministry of Energy said. "The tender for offshore fields will call soon after March 19, which is the final date for inland fields tender," Htay Aung said. Overseas companies have to make joint venture with local companies in inland oil and natural gas fields and they can directly invest in offshore oil and natural gas explorations. US based multinational energy corporations such as Chevron, Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips are interested to invest in offshore explorations.

Investigation Commission's final report comes under fire from local people: Eleven Myanmar March 15
Letpadaungtaung Copper Mine Project Investigation Commission chairperson Aung San Suu Kyi's recent visit to Letpadaungtaung on March 13- 14 was met with strong criticisms from local villagers who protested against the final report of the probe commission.
When Aung San Suu Kyi arrived at Letpadaungtaung, some 200 local villagers protested against the final report of the Investigation Commission at Ton village protest camp in Salingyi Township in the afternoon on March 13 and the protesters marched to Chinese Wanbao Company.Suu Kyi draws rare rancor over Myanmar mine report: Reuters, March 14
Myanmar Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi faced the wrath of hundreds of villagers on Thursday angered by her defense of an independent report that backed expansion of a copper mine they say was built on illegally seized land. The country's most high-profile lawmaker chaired a panel that concluded in a report on Tuesday that a deal agreed between a local joint venture and the former military government to build the Monywa copper mine should be honored, with amendments made to compensate the public and minimize environmental damage.

Myanmar protesters hit by police crackdown outraged over report that supports mine operations:Fox Business, March 12
Opponents of a nearly $1 billion copper mine in northwestern Myanmar expressed outrage Tuesday over a government-ordered report that said the project should continue and that refrained from demanding punishment for police involved in a violent crackdown on protesters.Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi chaired the investigation commission that produced the report, which was released late Monday night. It could pose a problem for Suu Kyi by identifying her with the pro-growth policies of the government against the interests of grass-roots people's movements.

Myanmar loosens grip on oil sector: Channel News Asia, March 6
Foreign firms will be granted full rights to Myanmar's deepwater oil blocks, the energy ministry said Tuesday, a first in a lucrative sector which was once closely-controlled by the authorities.
 
Around 25 new offshore blocks will be opened for tender in April with oil majors such as BP, Woodside, Shell and Chevron "ready" to compete for them, Aung Kyaw Htoo, assistant director of the Ministry of Energy, told AFP.

Burma's oil rush: 'Nothing else in this country gives you money like this': Guardian, March 4
 
At the end of the last dirt road in Thayet, Maung Ko Oo, 25, is standing thigh-deep in a pit of crude oil, his longyi tied up high around his waist, a sweaty vein of black tar streaked across his forehead. His boss - a round-faced man sporting a baseball cap and ruby ring - is standing over him, shouting out orders to the half-dressed men relaying oil-filled buckets to the huge barrels lining their station.
 
As the early afternoon sun arcs high over these dusty hills in central Burma, the men climb atop the barrels and pour in the oil bucket by bucket, then roll the filled barrels up a ridge and into the back of a truck. All around them, thousands of workers are doing the same - digging for oil, drilling for oil, collecting the oil, and selling it off to local refineries - in unregulated, artisanal pits which they claim can fetch up to 300 barrels of crude oil a day, worth $3,000 at local market prices.

Food & Agriculture

Private sector to grow teak on 1,700 acres in protected forest area: Eleven Myanmar, March 15
The government has allowed private sector to grow teak on over 1,700 acres of protected forest area, according to the announcement of the government. A total of 1,795 acres in the protected forest areas were allowed for the cultivation of teak.

Myanmar Makro to sue ministry: The Myanmar Times, March 11
Myanmar Makro Industry Company will file a lawsuit against Livestock Feedstuff and Milk Products Enterprise, a department of government ministry Myanmar Livestock and Fisheries, Myanmar Makro's legal counsel told The Myanmar Times on March 5.

Foreign Affairs

First US search since 2004 for MIAs in Myanmar ends: Fox News, March 19
A U.S. government team searching for bodies of American military personnel missing in action from past wars has finished its first mission in Myanmar since 2004. The U.S. Embassy said Tuesday that a nine-person team from the U.S. Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command confirmed some previous leads and developed new ones on the fate of Americans unaccounted for in fighting against the Japanese in World War II. It said research and fieldwork was done from Feb. 21 to March 15 in three areas, including Yangon, Myanmar's biggest city.

Surge in Intl Aid Could Hinder Burma's Progress: Study: The Irrawaddy, March 15
Rangoon is the most sought after destination among the best and brightest working for the world's leading aid agencies. One survey of World Bank employees found that 80 percent placed Burma top of their wish-list for an overseas posting. From pariah state to most preferred place to go: Burma's transition in the last two years has been breathtaking, but could the flood of aid and advice flowing into Burma become counterproductive and cause more harm than help?

UN Ranks Burma among 3 Least Developed Asian Nations: The Irrawaddy, March 15
A UN report released on Friday ranks Burma 149th on a global human development index that compares 185 nations on the basis of income, education and health indicators, placing it among the three least developed Asian countries. The country's ranking in the UN Development Program's Human Development Index 2013 is unchanged from last year. In Asia, only Papua New Guinea, 156, and Nepal, 157, ranked lower than Burma, which was surpassed by neighbors Bangladesh, 146, Laos, 138, and Thailand, at place 103. North Korea was not included in the UN index.

Leadership choices Myanmar's internal issue: US: Zee News, March 12
The US has no role in "leadership choices" in Myanmar as this is an internal issue of the country, but it would continue to play a constructive role in the democratic and economic progress in the South East Asian nation, a top presidential aide said on Tuesday.
 
"The United States has indicated that those governments which are prepared to move forward on reform, move forward on democracy and recognition of rights will have a partner in the United States," Tom Donilon, the National Security Advisor to the US President Barack Obama said.

Local Authorities Still Wary of Foreign Visitors: The Irrawaddy, March 11
For decades foreign visitors' movements have been restricted and monitored in Burma, especially in ethnic majority areas abutting the country's borders. But with the recent opening up of the country to investment and tourism, all that is supposed to be changing. So I was surprised last week when, after taking an American tourist to see my village in Mon State, near the border with Thailand, my family came under scrutiny by the local authorities.

National Affairs

Myanmar parliament to review controversial constitution: Reuters, March 15
(Reuters) - Myanmar's parliament took the first step on Friday towards the possible amendment of the constitution which was drafted under a military regime and bars Nobel laureate and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from the presidency. The constitution, ratified after a rigged 2008 referendum and widely seen as undemocratic, disqualifies presidential and vice-presidential candidates whose spouses or children are citizens of a foreign country. Suu Kyi's late husband, academic Michael Aris, was British, as are their two grown-up sons.

Journalists Call on Burma to Scrap Controversial Press Law: The Irrawaddy, March 13
A new media law under consideration by the Burmese Parliament would create new forms of censorship and should be scrapped, journalists in Rangoon said on Tuesday. The legislation would ban material that violates the country's Constitution and incites unrest, among other things. It also grants wide-ranging powers to the Information Ministry's Registration Department.

Activists, Locals Reject Letpadaung Inquiry: The Irrawaddy, March 12
 Activists and the victims of a brutal crackdown on a protest against a Chinese-backed copper mine have rejected the results of the newly-released parliamentary inquiry into the incident, as it failed to hold any officials responsible for the violence.
The protestors vowed to continue their campaign against the mine in northwestern Burma, despite the fact that the inquiry said that the project can continue.

Myanmar Admits Phosphorous Usage In Mine Protest Crackdown: IB Times, March 12
A parliamentary report in Myanmar released Monday acknowledged that police used smoke bombs that contained phosphorus during a crackdown on a protest against a Chinese-backed mine last year leaving 108 people with serious burn injuries.
 
The incident in November at the Letpadaung copper mine in Monywa in northwestern Myanmar was the biggest use of police force against protesters in the country since President Thein Sein's semi-civilian government took charge in March 2011.

Court Rejects Complaint against President over Protest Raid: The Irrawaddy, March 11
A lawyer of villagers in Sagaing Division said a court has rejected their attempt to file a lawsuit against President Thein Sein for his alleged role in a crackdown on protests against a controversial copper mine in north western Burma. "The court returned the file, with a rejection remark, saying it is unreasonable to open a case," Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min, a consultant lawyer to the plaintiffs, said on Monday.

Burma NLD Conference Inspires Cambodia Opposition Leader: The Irrawaddy, March 11
The exiled leader of the Cambodian opposition says that Burma provides an example for his country's political reform process, after attending the National League of Democracy's first party congress in Rangoon this weekend. Sam Rainsy, leader-in-exile of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, met with NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi during his three-day visit to Burma. "We look up to Burma as a model on how to move forward to democracy," he said. He described the conference, which he attended following a personal invitation by Suu Kyi, as impressive and moving.

Myanmar Opposition Leader Vows Party Reform: New York Times, March 10
Myanmar's main opposition party ended a congress over the weekend with the party's leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, calling for a "good relationship" with the powerful military. She vowed to infuse new blood into the party, which is still recovering from more than two decades of persecution under military rule.

Myanmar parliament agrees on signing New York convention to attract investment: Xinhua, March 6
 
Myanmar's parliament has agreed on signing Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards 1958 (New York Convention) as a prerequisite to attract foreign investment, official media reported Wednesday.
 
The approval of the parliament came after six lawmakers discussed the pros and cons of the signing at the parliament's ongoing session in Nay Pyi Taw. Aung San Suu Kyi, a parliament member with the House of Representative, said in the session that "To make the economy a success, it all depends on trust. No matter what legislation is enacted and no matter what agreement is signed, no potential investor would make investment unless they have confidence in the (political) landscape of the country."

Customs

Mekong countries to integrate transport links: Eleven Myanmar, March 15
Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam have acknowledged there is much to be done to integrate their transport links and further facilitate trade before the Asean Economic Community (AEC) comes into effect in 2015. The leaders of the five countries met at the 5th Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy (ACMECS) Summit in Vientiane yesterday to discuss these issues. During the summit, the leaders of the five countries adopted the Vientiane Declaration of the 5th ACMECS Summit and the Plan of Action for 2013-2015, which outline the key goals to be achieved before the AEC comes into being.

Customs duty and commercial tax doubles, the commerce ministry says: Eleven Myanmar, March 13
An official mobile team making inspections along the Myanmar-China trade route (Photo - EMG) Border Trade Department has collected at least 45.3 billion kyats for customs duty and commercial tax after seizure of illegal trade, according to the announcement from the commerce ministry. The ministry said mobile inspection teams seized smuggling goods on the trade routes of Myanmar-China and Myanmar-Thailand. The inspection teams have made the smugglers pay for duty and issued licenses officially.

Myanmar trade volume increases: Eleven Myanmar, March 12
Myanmar trade volume of this fiscal year has increased despite decreasing export of jade, one of the country's most sought after commodity, according to the announcements of the commerce ministry. The amount of trade volume hits $17
billion for this year which is $255 million more than it did in thesame period of previous fiscal year. Of $17 billion trade volume, the export volume was more than $8.2 billion and the import volume was

 ICT

Telecom project sparks protest as it damages farms: Eleven Myanmar, March 15
A government's telecom project to lay fiber optics underground connecting Yangon and capital Nay Pyi Taw is facing protest by locals whose farms were unearthed during the project, according to a local involved in the protest. The farmlands were dug twice, while burying cables along the roads in Thapyay San village, Magway township, one of the locals said. The local people were asking for compensation for their damaged crops and lands, but the company on the project offered compensation for damaged crops only. Farms were dug again on March 10 while the negotiation has not finished, arousing anger among the locals.

Google's Schmidt to visit Myanmar, an untapped telecoms market: Reuters, March 15
Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt plans to go to Myanmar next week, the first high-profile tech company executive to visit after reforms that prompted Western nations to ease sanctions following decades of military dictatorship.
Since Myanmar's military stepped aside and a quasi-civilian government was installed in 2011, setting off a wave of political and economic reforms, the country has enjoyed a surge of interest from overseas businesses.


 Health & Life Sciences

Myanmar to regulate foreign doctors: Bangkok Post, March 15
Foreign doctors will be issued with licenses to operate in Myanmar, said the chairman of the Myanmar Medical Council at a conference on Friday at the Myanmar Medical Council in Yangon. "Limited licenses will be provided to foreign practitioners coming to the country," said Professor Myo Myint. "It will be limited by time, place of practice and type of surgery and practice." The doctors will be granted licenses of a maximum of one-year and will have to partner with a local doctor. Presently, there are around 100 registered and unregistered foreign doctors operating in Myanmar. Most of these are short-term consultants working with the health department; however, many are operating under-the-radar.