Myanmar: Set To Ease Investment Restrictions

Via The Financial Times, a report on Myanmar’s foreign investment regulations:

Myanmar’s parliament is set to relax some of the restrictions on foreign investment it had proposed, following changes requested by President Thein Sein to the country’s long-delayed foreign investment law, according to MPs who discussed the president’s requests in parliament’s new session this week.

Mr Thein Sein returned the draft law to parliament with five key changes and 11 suggested modifications after rejecting a draft bill passed on the final day of the legislature’s last session in early September.

In his first domestic press conference, held 18 months after he took power, the president said last Sunday that the foreign investment law could be “finalised within days”.

“Job opportunities are rare in our country,” he told local and foreign reporters. “To get these opportunities, we definitely need foreign investment. So we revised the foreign direct investment law and submitted it to parliament.

“I think it will come out within days.” However, he stressed, the law must “be in line with neighbouring countries … and if it is, investors will come.”

The president’s comments reflect a growing sense of urgency in Myanmar, following the easing of most western sanctions on investment.

Despite receiving a green light for investment from their governments, western companies have been deterred by legal uncertainty over foreign investment laws, which are currently under a decades-old code.

More significant, said Nomita Nair, partner at Berwin Leighton Paisner law firm, “while the foreign investment law is certainly an important consideration for investors, it is only one of many factors to consider, not least being the capacity of the judiciary to enforce the laws, exacerbated by the recent ousting of judges from the constitutional court.”

Among urgent changes proposed by Mr Thein Sein to the investment code is the scrapping of a proposed minimum start-up investment of $5m, which many critics argued would benefit already-wealthy local business figures and shut out smaller companies.

The president has also proposed changing another controversial provision – introduced by MPs – to limit foreign ownership in key sectors to 50 per cent. Both local and would-be foreign investors have argued the provision would be a recipe for “deadlock”.

Under the revised proposal, joint-venture investors would have more discretion to determine the ratio of foreign to local ownership, while in some sectors the ratio is likely to be 51-49.

Another significant change would be the overhaul of a long list of sectors that barred foreign investment. In the earlier draft bill passed by parliament these included broad sectors such as fisheries and agriculture, and more specific areas such as any venture that “imported toxic chemicals”.

These would be altered to “more realistically reflect business requirements and interests”, said one MP.

At the same time, provisions welcomed by foreign business, such as tax exemptions for an initial five-year period and 50-year property leases would be retained, according to officials.

The changes would encourage foreign investors, said the Myanmar branch of business consultant Vriens & Partners in a client note. However, it cautioned, any modifications must be approved by a joint parliamentary session, still weeks away.

In addition, said Vriens, parliament was not required to accept the president’s suggestions and, even then “once suggestions are rejected or accepted, the bill is sent back to the president who has 14 days to return it with comments before it becomes law”.

Parliament’s deliberations came after the government issued foreign investment data that showed a steep annual drop in approved investment in the first three quarters of 2012.

As of September 30, approved foreign investment in Myanmar amounted to $31bn, or about $10bn less than over the same period last year. China, Hong Kong, South Korea, and Thailand remained the leading investors in Myanmar this year.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, October 24th, 2012 at 4:44 pm and is filed under Burma.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  Both comments and pings are currently closed. 

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