By Dan Gallucci
The economic modernisation of Myanmar continues at a rapid clip. In the critical sectors of telecommunications and banking, a combination of government and private sector efforts have set the foundation for the country’s next stage of growth. Nevertheless, significant challenges lie ahead.
Earlier this month Qatari telecom Ooredoo (ORDS:DSM), launched mobile phone and 3G internet services in greater Yangon, Mandalay and Naypyidaw. According to the company, the initial networks reach 7.8m people, about 15 per cent of the population. Norway’s Telenor (TEL:OSL) will open similar coverage in September.
Last week Italy’s government hosted a high-level delegation from Myanmar promoting foreign investment in their rapidly changing “new Asian frontier” of some 60m people where, for example, only about five per cent own mobile phones.
All were wearing civilian clothes but their listed CVs revealed that the entire delegation, all men and including foreign minister Wunna Maung Lwin, were former members of the military that ruled the country for nearly 50 years until quasi-civilian rule was introduced in 2011.
“It is much easier to change clothes than the mindset,” commented Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s opposition leader and Nobel peace prize winner who arrived in Rome several days later and gave a news conference on Monday.
By Richard Dobbs and Michael Spence
President Thein Sein of Myanmar (pictured) is making his first visit to Britain this week. He will be holding talks in London at a critical moment in Myanmar’s emergence from isolation.
Politics and ethnic tensions continue to cast a shadow over the broad sense of optimism about the business opportunity. But developing its economy is probably the major challenge facing Myanmar.
There is some irony in the re-entry of BAT to Myanmar, to pick up where it left off more than a decade ago in producing and distributing cigarettes. But back then, Myanmar was a pariah state and BAT was widely condemned for its links to a brutal military regime. Now, with a rapidly expanding economy and growing foreign interest, investing in Myanmar is a feel-good story – despite growing concerns about the spread of racial and ethnic violence.
The decision by Myanmar’s government to award two fiercely contested national mobile communications licenses to Qatar’s Ooredoo and Norway’s Telenor Mobile Communications on Thursday raised as many questions as answers among Yangon-based analysts – not least due to an eleventh-hour effort by the country’s parliament to block news of the winning bids.
At the same time, conclusion of the contest reassured a growing number of investors eyeing Myanmar that the country is capable of conducting a transparent, fair and efficient public tender.
Companies from Norway and Qatar have won the race for telecommunications licences in Myanmar, which foreign investors view as one of the final frontiers of mobile communications, as FastFT reports.
Groups led by Norway’s Telenor and Qatar’s Ooredoo, the renamed Qatar Telecom, beat big name bidders including France Telecom and a consortium involving Digicel and George Soros to the licences, according to a statement from the government on Thursday.
One of the most visible symbols so far of Myanmar’s opening to the west was the recent launch of Coca-Cola’s new bottling operations at its joint-venture plant on the outskirts of Yangon. Less visible was the changing dynamic around the seemingly unstoppable surge of foreign investment interest in the previously secretive country.
While some of the world’s biggest professional services firms have rushed into Myanmar to set up shop, the big management consultants have been conspicuously absent from the rush – at least, so it has seemed.
But, what do you know? McKinsey & Co, in typically discreet style, has trumped them all with a comprehensive report on the country’s prospects and policy suggestions, to be formally presented – gratis – to the government of President Thein Sein.
As beyondbrics reported yesterday, Myanmar’s new trasparency zeal could be a nightmare for China, given the close relationship between the two nations on various projects.
So how are China’s investments in the country going? And which other countries are waiting in the wings?
You're signing what?
It’s hardly a move to please China. Myanmar, up to recently a loyal neighbour with seemingly endless willingness to open up its abundant natural resources to Chinese companies, is preparing to sign the awkwardly-named Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.
Norway-based EITI, which comprises governments, civil society, international organisations and resources companies, oversees a voluntary regime for the natural resources industry that has struck fear in the boardrooms of multinationals around the world.
The US has taken further steps to ease restrictions on US corporate investment and business activities in Myanmar, following intense debate within the US Treasury and the State department after Washington softened sanctions against the country last July.
The move frees US citizens and companies to conduct business with four of the country’s biggest banks, of a total 19 banks. All four banks have faced US sanctions and at least two of the institutions are controlled by people who have been on so-called US “blacklists”, naming individuals with close business and financial links to the former military regime.
Myanmar’s government on Tuesday took its first big step towards promised liberalisation of the country’s long closed telecommunications market, with a surprise announcement inviting foreign tenders for two national telecoms service licenses.
By Sarah Mishkin and Gwen Robinson
HTC, the Taiwanese smartphone maker, is the latest foreign investor lured to Myanmar and the potential of its growing consumer base.
What edge does HTC think it has against Samsung, its much larger competitor that already has big operations in the country? Perhaps the fact that, as it has done most notably in China, HTC’s phones are designed specifically for the local market, with an operating system capable of handling Myanmar’s alphabet, not something supported by most software.
Australia’s ANZ has become the first western bank to gain approval from Myanmar’s authorities to open a representative office since the easing of western sanctions earlier this year.
ANZ, which plans to open its doors early in 2013, will likely be followed by Standard Chartered Bank, which is not far behind with its preparations, having secured in-principle approval. HSBC is also pressing for permission for a representative office, beyondbrics has learned.
A year ago, who would have thought Myanmar would be in the spotlight on the private equity stage? It turns out that those PE funds with an eye on geopolitics, are also seeing potential in the Middle East and north Africa in the wake of the Arab Spring .