May 24, 2013

Companies rush to Myanmar 'new frontier' for opportunities

AUSTRALIAN companies are starting to pour into Myanmar, the "new frontier" for investment in Asia, as fresh opportunities emerge there 50 years after the country's military rulers closed it off from the world.

Melinda Tun, a mergers and acquisitions lawyer with Baker and McKenzie, said yesterday that energy company Woodside, construction giant McConnell Dowell, dairy company Murray Goulburn, packaging firm Visy, ANZ bank and Macquarie University were among the leaders of the Australian push into the fast-growing country of 64 million.

"Australia's presence is not yet as visible as the Japanese, South Koreans and other Asian corporations that are rushing in, but Myanmar ministers are well aware of our industry expertise, which they are seeking in resources, agriculture -- especially dairy -- infrastructure and construction," Ms Tun said.

Myanmar Mines Minister Myint Aung is spending two weeks in Australia with a large delegation. He is attending conferences in Sydney this week, then next week looking at mines in Queensland.
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Ms Tun is a founder and director of the Australia Myanmar Chamber of Commerce, which was incorporated two months ago after key economic reforms were implemented.

She said the chamber had applied for Austrade support for a skill-swap program that would second Myanmar businesspeople to work with Australian companies for three months, "so they can see how Australia approaches everything, from business risk to corporate governance, and can take it back into their own companies".

The pace of business interest picked up rapidly, she said, with the enactment of a new foreign investment law last November, which reduced the sovereign risk for companies entering the market.

Ms Tun, who was born in Myanmar and now travels between there and Australia where she obtained a degree at the University of Sydney, said that block auctions were now being conducted for oil and gas exploration both on and offshore.

"The rate of reform has been rapid, and business is trying to catch up with what's happening, and work out how best to engage with the government," Ms Tun said.

The Australian companies that were already moving in, she said, were those that were already Asia-experienced, often starting from regional hubs in Bangkok or Singapore.

Ms Tun said that "overall, the companies arriving are chiefly pan-Asian", with American firms hampered by a continuing sanction against dealing with some members of the Myanmar elite, while Australia's only surviving restraint concerned military involvement.

China, she said, was still the largest trading partner, but was figuring out how to compete in the new environment.

Source: The Australian