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IDSA COMMENT
Myanmar Opens to Business Opportunities, but is it sustainable?

Shebonti Ray Dadwal

June 14, 2013
If the participation of 900 delegates – the largest to date – from around the world, representing governments, business, civil society and academia at the World Economic Forum on East Asia in Naypyidaw from June 5-7 was any indication, then Myanmar has successfully shown that the international community is ready to do business with it. Located strategically between two of the world’s largest economies, holding some of the richest energy and mineral resources and an abundance of cheap labour, Myanmar is theoretically every businessman’s dream. Since its democratic transition in 2011, countries and their companies have been racing to get a piece of the Burmese pie in order to have a first-mover advantage. Not surprisingly, Myanmar’s energy sector, has elicited the most attention. With reserves assessed between 7.8 trillion cubic feet (tcf), the government’s 2011 bidding round offered 18 onshore blocks, eight of which were awarded to foreign firms, while the January 2013 round, which put up 18 onshore and 30 offshore blocks on offer, have attracted significant interest from international oil companies, including the majors. Another round for 20 more by the end of 2013 has been announced.

However, till recently, Myanmar’s gas was sold only to Thailand, though from July 2013, China too will receive 6.5 tcf of gas for 30 years from its Rakhine blocks, jointly owned by Myanmar, South Korea’s Daewoo and India’s OVL and GAIL following the completion of a pipeline. But if its energy resources are to be the vehicle that will drive its economic prosperity, then Myanmar has to introduce and implement reforms in its energy sector across the board.

With no transparency, accountability or public disclosure of how the revenues accruing from the sale of energy were managed or used, the perception is that they were utilised to prop up the military rule or went into the personal coffers of the junta. For example, Myanmar receives around $1- $2 billion a year from its natural gas exports to Thailand, but these are not reflected in public accounts. As a result, the country remains extremely poor and ironically, suffers from chronic energy shortages. More than 70% of Myanmar’s 60 million people live in villages, with the agriculture sector, albeit down to 36% from 57% in 2001, making up the bulk of the country’s GDP.

Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC)

Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC)

Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd (MEHL)

Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd (MEHL)

Despite the huge gas reserves, the country has an installed generation capacity of 6,300 MW, with a per capita power consumption of 100 units.1 Only 26% of the population has access to electricity, and though it has more than adequate capacity to deal with peak loads, inadequate infrastructure and supply (from coal power plants and gas pipelines), load shedding of up to 500 MW is experienced. Moreover, although Myanmar produces 10.2 million tonnes of oil equivalent gas per year, an Accenture-ADB report says that all but 15% of it is sold to Thailand. Even the gas produced by the Daewoo consortium in the Rakhine coast has been sold to China.2 As a result, biomass accounts for 75% of primary energy supply, almost all of which is derived from fuel wood, followed by gas (10%) and oil (6%). The same is the case with hydropower. According to the Ministry of Electric Power, the country’s hydropower potential has been projected at more than 100,000 MW, but installed capacity is only 2,520 MW.3

The lack of development has given vent to domestic opposition. The new government has stated that they will do things differently. Recently, a Chinese-led conglomerate was stopped by landholders and monks from carrying out work on a copper project while Shan guerrillas attacked a Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) compound close to the gas pipeline near the China border. In November 2012, after the Wanbao Mining Corporation, a subsidiary of China’s state-owned arms maker, Norinco, had asked for acquiring lands of 26 villages at the base of Letpadaung mountain, faced violent protests, the government established an inquiry led by Aung San Suu Kyi. What is of concern is that the Shwe Gas Movement has pledged to fight for higher compensation for land taken for the Chinese pipelines, and jobs for the people along the pipelines’ route. Although the inquiry allowed the company to continue its work, it ordered the company to pay market prices for the land acquisition as well as compensation for three years of crops.4

It is, therefore, clear that the government has realized that it has to change the way it does business. In November 2011, bowing to domestic pressure, the government said it had to “respect the people’s will” and scrapped a $3.6 billion dam project at Myitsone, one of seven planned by China Power Investment.5 Other foreign companies too have taken cognizance of the changes, while existing ones, namely Chinese and Thai firms are renegotiating their contracts. The government also stated that new discoveries will be used for domestic utilisation first, leaving excess resources for exports.

A beginning has been made. The government has committed to implementing the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, a global standard to measure governance and transparency in resource-rich countries, and as was reflected in the joint statement signed during President Thein Sein’s visit to Washington states, “The United States and Myanmar reaffirm their shared objectives to manage their natural resources, including oil and gas, and the revenues they generate, transparently and for the benefit of all their citizens.”

With the advent of global companies into Myanmar, where does that leave China and India? In particular, Chinese companies, which had enjoyed a strong presence thanks to the sanctions making it largely off limits for Western firms, are now facing stiff competition as Myanmar is showing a tendency to turn increasingly to the West for its development. A clear pointer is that in the recent oil and gas bidding round, only one Chinese company, SIPC Myanmar Petroleum Company Ltd, was short-listed out of the fifty-nine. India has fared better, with seven Indian companies, including OVL, OIL, Gujarat Natural Resources Ltd, Cairn India Ltd, Prize Petroleum Company, Jubilant Energy (Kharsang) and Jubilant Oil and Gas being short listed, along with Australian, Pakistani, Japanese, Canadian, US and Malaysian contenders.6 No one, however, doubts that China will maintain its hold over the country, at least for some time. Nevertheless, it is not taking any chances and had ordered its state-owned companies to adopt corporate social responsibility practices and improve their public relations profile in the country. It has also appointed two veteran diplomats to strengthen bilateral relations.7

India too is investing substantially in Myanmar with investments worth $2.6 billion across several sectors, including downstream energy sector, infrastructure and telecom. But it too has come in for criticism particularly for the manner in which it operates. For instance, its $214 million Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Project has come for scrutiny from local communities for allegedly forced relocations, land confiscation without adequate compensation, discrimination in hiring workers and destruction of local heritage.

Despite the initial enthusiasm, it may be some time before real changes can be seen in Myanmar and for the country to make the transition from an extractive-driven economy to one where real development can be expected. According to a recent report on transparency from Resource Watch Institute, even Afghanistan is a better place to do business than Myanmar, and although some sanctions had been lifted, it is still too early to say whether the investments are warranted or at least commensurate with the risks involved. Apart from the recent violent clashes that broke out between Buddhists and Muslims, rampant corruption and lack of transparency and accountability in Myanmar, mismanagement is rampant, leading to the dismal development scenario.

Even India, which had proposed the construction of two large hydropower projects in Myanmar’s Chindwin river – the 1,200-MW Htamanthi and the 642-MW Shwezaye hydroelectric plants – has had to back out owing to the prohibitive cost of constructing the projects and the increasing political pressure from indigenous environmental groups.8

Eventually, however, whether the initial international business interest in Myanmar will be sustained will depend on how quickly it develops its infrastructure, particularly electricity.

Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.

http://www.idsa.in/idsacomments/MyanmarOpenstoBusinessOpportunities_srdadwal_140613

1. Power Grid, IFC may tie up for rural electrification, distribution in Myanmar rural areas”, Myanmar Business Network, June 08, 2013, http://www.myanmar-business.org/2013/06/power-grid-ifc-may-tie-up-for.html
2. In June 2013, CNPC announced it had completed construction of its oil pipeline from Kyaukphyu to Kunming, and a parallel natural gas pipeline running alongside from Kyaukphyu to China’s Yunnan Province was undergoing operational trials. The gas will come from the Daewoo operated A1 and A3 blocks in which OVL has a 17% stake and GAIL has 8.5% stake in the Daewoo-led consortium in Blocks A1 and A3 in the Rakhine Coast in Arakan offshore in north-western Myanmar.
3. “New Energy Architecture: Myanmar, World Economic Forum in collaboration with Accenture and the Asian Development Bank, June 2013, p 14.
4. Jane Perlez and Bree Feng, “China Tries to Improve Image in a Changing Myanmar”, New York Times, May 18, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/19/world/asia/under-pressure-china-measures-its-impact-in-myanmar.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
5. Andrew Higgins, “Chinese-funded hydropower project sparks anger in Burma”, Washington Post, November 07, 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/19/world/asia/under-pressure-china-measures-its-impact-in-myanmar.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
6. Animesh Singh, Indian cos checkmate China on Myanmar’s gas exploration bid, Pioneer, 13.6.13
7. Ian Storey, “China plays double game to protect its interests in Myanmar”, South China Morning Post, May 18, 2013, http://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/article/1239921/china-plays-…
8. Myanmar, India scrap two hydroelectric projects”, Hydroworld.com, June 6, 2013, http://www.hydroworld.com/articles/2013/06/myanmar–india-scrap-two-hydroelectric-projects.html
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REPORTS

UNSC Report No. 1- 4 Oct 2007
Update Report 19 September 2007_Myanmar (UNSC Report)
Update Report 22 Nov 2006_Myanmar
UN Report- Myanmar Opium Survey - Oct 2004
UNSC Report No. 1 - 10 September 2008
UNSC Report No. 4- 14 May 2008
Security Council-Report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict in Myanmar
Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar
Thayer The Myammar/Burma Issue: After Sanctions
■ SUPPLY AND COMMAND
■ Gas & Oil Connections - Myanmar lost to China- India's encirclement complete
AI Report June 2008
AI Report November 2007 AI Report December 2007
AI Report June 2005
AI Report on Myanmar briefing after Nargis
EIU Country Report :March 2009
EIU Annual Report : 2007
EU Conclusion on Myanmar - Oct 2007
Amnesty International- Sep 2007
■ A History of the Burma Socialist Party by Kyaw Zaw Win

NUCLEAR

■ Recognition of Burma's Proliferation
■ Plagiarism in the Burma Nuclear SCOOP
■ Nuclear Proliferation and Burma the Hidden Connection
■ Burma's Secret Agreement With North Korea
■ BURMA-A-Threat-to-International-Security-and-Peace
■ Additional-Burmese-Missile-Sites-Identified
■ WMD Nexus Between North Korea and Burma
■ Where's the State Dept Nuclear Report on Burma
■ BURMA DIGEST Interview on Burma Nuclear
■ Analysis of Burma's Nuclear Program 1
■ Analysis of Burma's Nuclear Program 2
■ Russia Burma Nuclear Intelligence Report-1
■ Russia Burma Nuclear Intelligence Report-2
■ Arm-Including Nuke Dealing With N-Korea
■ Burma's China Connection and the India Ocean Region By Andrew Selth
■ NEITHER WAR NOR PEACE The Future of cease-fire Agreements in Burma
■ A Historical Overview of Political Transition in Myanmar Since 1988
■ Sino-Myanmar Economic Relations Since 1988
■ The Road to Naypyidaw- Making Sense of the Myanmar Government's Decision to Move its Capital
■ Southern Thai Politics - A Preliminary Overview

UN WORLD BODIES

Vale Earth Fair
Conservative Party Human Rights Commission
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
US State Department report on Burma
US State Department report on human rights in Burma
Witness CIA World Factbook - Burma
News Statesman special issue on Burma (Jun 08)
Global Health Facts
HIV Information for Myanmar (HIM)
Mae Tao Clinic (Dr Cynthia’s clinic)
Three Diseases Fund

ART

Art-Exiled Burmese Hip Hop
Identity and Design

Library

Online Burma Library

Journalism

Development Gateway
Human Security Gateway
Inside Burma - Land of Fear
Inside Burma - Land of Fear

Aung San Suu Kyi Pages

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi pages
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi pages
Free Aung San Suu Kyi

PHOTOGRAPHY

■ Images of Suspected Uranium Mine and Refinery in Burma
Exile Images: Photography
Grace under Pressure
Kalama Sutta
Karen guerillas

MOVIES

Shwe Dream
Burma VJ
Inside Burma - Land of Fear
Inside Burma - Land of Fear
Moving to Mars
Kalama Sutta
The Hub, by Witness.

MONKS

English
Burmese

BDC SITES

Bdcburma
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Music
Italian
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News and Entertainment Portal
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Radio

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Aeinstein
Moethaukkye
Binamo
Absdf8888
Blc Burma
DPNS
Ko Moe Thee
drlunswe
khinmamamyo
ko-htike
niknayman
soneseayar
maungdine
mmedwatch
maynyane
nineninesanay
linletkyalsin
shwebothar
peacefulwalkingtogether
publicenemies
weunite-weblog
freedomuprising
pu-htu-zin
internationalcampaignforfreedom Blog Generation Wave

ETNIC SITES

Chin Youth
Feraya,s new website-taigress
Free Burma Rangers
Hurform- HRF of Monland
Karen Human Rights Group
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KNU
Mae Sod Border action
Phan Foundation
Chin Human Rights Organization
Drum Publications
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The Chin Forum
The Rohingya Minority

WOMEN

Burmese Women’s Union
Kachin Women’s Association Thailand
Karen Women’s Organisation (KWO)
Karenni National Women’s Organization
Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN)
WEAVE - Women’s Education for Advancement and Empowerment
Women’s League of Burma
Women’s League of Chinland

NGOS

Burma Diaspora
Help without Frontiers
http://www.helfenohnegrenzen.de/
Latest IDP figure for Burma - Internal Displacement Monitoring Group
WEAVE - Women’s Education for Advancement and Empowerment
All Burma Federation of Student Unions (Foreign Affairs Committee)
All Burma Students’ Democratic Front
Burma Education Partnership (BEP)
Human Rights Education Institute of Burma
Prospect Burma
Federation of Trade Unions - Burma
Global Unions: Companies linked to Burma
Burma Border Projects (BBP)
Burma Children Medical Fund (BCMF)
International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)
Burma Diaspora

SPDC SITES

New Light of Myanmar
The State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) website

ENVIRONMENTAL

Karen Rivers Watch
Living River Siam
Project Maje
Salween watch
Association for Sustainable and Responsible Investment in Asia
Burma Economic Watch
Business and Human Rights Resource Centre
Global Unions: Companies linked to Burma
Salween watch
SEEcompanies.com
Shwe Gas Movement
AIDS, TB, Malaria and Bird Flu spread unchecked in Burma
Back Pack Health Worker Team

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