Monday, October 5, 2015

US business delegation to arrive after election: UMFCCI

September 30, The Irrawaddy

A delegation of some 80 US business representatives is set to arrive in Rangoon late this year, according to an official from Burma’s chamber of commerce, on the heels of a landmark general election to be held in November.

Maung Maung Lay, vice chairman of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI), told The Irrawaddy that the delegation, comprising mostly directors of small and medium enterprises, will attend a “business-matching” workshop with local entrepreneurs.

“The UMFCCI has information that US investors will come to learn about the current economic situation after the election, probably at the end of this year,” Maung Maung Lay said, adding that the forum is expected to focus on investment law awareness and incentives for foreign financiers.

The event does not appear to have been facilitated by either the US Embassy or the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham), though the latter confirmed that an unrelated annual US-Burma Business Forum will likely be held early next year.

The United States restored diplomatic relations with Burma in 2012, after the former military regime ceded power to a quasi-civilian government led by President Thein Sein. Economic sanctions were eased for some sectors and individuals, though a number of Burmese business people remain on the Treasury Department’s Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list.

Despite the easing of restrictions, US investment remains relatively low in Burma, as many potential investors have taken a “wait and see” approach to entering the frontier market, which was off limits for about 15 years. A number of major American brands, however, have already broken ground in the country, including Coca-Cola, General Electric, Pepsi, Cisco, Gap, KFC and Colgate.

Maung Maung Lay said he is optimistic about American investment, in hopes that diversifying the market would accelerate economic growth and bring the once-isolated nation up to speed with its neighbors.

“When I meet US businessmen, I tell them to come here fast—even before the election—because the early birds will get the opportunities,” Maung Maung Lay said.

Economist Maung Maung Soe was less hopeful, predicting that American companies will not show much more interest in Burma whether or not the Nov. 8 poll is carried out in accordance with international standards.

“Actually, the United States isn’t as interested in Burma as China is,” Maung Maung Soe said. “It’s not a concern because the US is far from here, and they don’t have much of an Asian strategy in terms of investment.”

According to figures from the Myanmar Investment Commission, Singapore tops the list of Burma’s foreign investors at US$1.8 billion in the first half of the current fiscal year. During that same period, US companies invested only $2.6 million, the MIC said.

Since 1988, US investment totals about $248 million, a figure that pales in comparison to China and Thailand, which during the same period invested more than $14 billion and $10 billion in the country, respectively.