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U.S. to stimulate investments in Burma

U.S. to stimulate investments in BurmaBy ANGUS WATSONAs part of a trade-diplomatic trip to Southeast Asia, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker opened a trade bureau in the U.S. embassy in Rangoon on Friday. As Andrew Leahy of DVB's US Ambassador explains, DVB's corporate services firms act as "lawyers and contacts for US companies seeking to make investments in a particular country" and work "directly with US companies seeking to learn more about a particular market or to operate in the country's business world.

"Pritzker's local trip was announced by the U.S. Department of Commerce to explain the economics of President Obama's hub to Asia, with the amount of travel he made to Burma "helping to build the flexible and resilient infrastructures needed to help the growing number of aspiring partners". In addition, US corporations plan to spend $243.6 million on Burma's business from April 30, 2014.

Whilst this number of US FDI in Burma is overshadowed by the latest available US FDI data for the Philippines, $4.6 billion, and Vietnam, $1.2 billion, the US companies' response to the lifting of the bulk of US stimulus packages in 2012 has been rapid.

Pritzker on Thursday saw Burma's President Thein Sein in Naypyidaw, Vice President Nyan Tun and Shwe Mann, spokesman for the House of Commons. She emphasized that the Myanmar authorities must "build on the advances made through the implementation of policies that foster integrated business growth, foster openness and public accountability, and protect labor and people.

"Last months assessment of this advance led to President Obama re-classifying the Burmese U.S. as a National Emergency. "This application renews the restrictive restrictions on US companies that invest in Burma. According to the US ambassador to Burma, Derek Mitchell, these penalties primarily concern "persons and organisations who have profited physically from their strong relations with the former regimes and which are still hindering the reforms in that state, the so-called "specially appointed nationals".

"Such a black-listed unit, militarily held by the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings (UMEH), will be assigned to the neighboring US firm Ball Corporation in the Thilawa Special Economic Zone (SEZ), which is currently under development 20 kilometres due to be built 20 kilometres due South of Rangoon. The Ball Corporation will take advantage of the minimum bureaucracy of the federal administration and the loose labor legislation that characterizes the SED, as will UMEH, a business already exempted from trade and income tax.

Priztler was visited on Friday by Ball Company and APR in Burma, who are building a large solar heating system, as she confirmed: "When our company makes an investment, it brings the highest standard, which includes a strong sense of entrepreneurial and CSR. Only one of the USCB entities, Coca-Cola, could be considered a "responsible" shareholder, while two were classified as "questionable" and three as "irresponsible".

Such an" irresponsible" US firm, Capital Group Companies Inc, was honored for its relations with Burma-based Yoma Strategic Holdings. Yoma is associated with "human right violations, which include ecological degradation, eviction, land seizure, arrests and labour crimes". "Yoma has also been screened by the U.S. Treasury Department for possible blacklisting of ties to the former state.

But Yoma has never been on the mailing lists, and her chief executive officer, Serge Pun, is often described as "Mr. Clean" in the world' s press. This is despite his lead company Yoma Bank not being on Burma's top 100 top business tax payers for 2011-12 or the top 500 for 2012-13.

Serge Pun's ability to run a variety of profitable business in Burma under consecutive Burmese army regimes and the present quasi-civilian regime has sparked suspicion from lobbies like the USCB. USCB last months urged the International Finance Corporation to withdraw from a developing agreement with Yoma.

In 2008, the U.S. Embassy added Yoma to the Burma government's "system of commercial patronage", which ensures that "certain corporations, often held by fellow members of the regimes, obtain important treaties and lucrative trade deals in return for their assistance to the regime". "But Yoma, yet another enterprise in which Pun was still a part, has ever been sanctioned, so Pun enjoys a reputable and respected managing director's name in a nationwide operating context that clearly promotes bribery.

Andrew Rickards, Chief Executive Officer of Yoma Strategic Holdings, said last weeks to DVB that USCB's accusations were "without substance" and that Yoma "rejects the applicability of these[USCB] notifications. "USCB, while remaining gloomy about the recent development of US investments by the Burmese civil society, claims that "responsible US investments have the capacity to underpin the political objective of the US, the creation of a non-violent, wealthy and democratically founded state that is respectful of respect for people' s right and the constitutional state".

Recently, the label declared its intent to open two plants in Burma, thereby committing itself to CSR.

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