US business chiefs scope out Myanmar deals

Khine Kyaw
Alexander C. Feldman, president and CEO of the US-Asean Business Council Inc(3rd from left) at UMFCCI meeting(Photo-Khine Kyaw,Myanmar Eleven)

A team of 37 executives from 14 leading US companies met with representatives of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chamber of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI) at the latter’s office last week to deepen bilateral economic relations and to seek new joint ventures with local firms.

The delegation was led by Alexander Feldman, president and Chief Executive Officer of the US-Asean Business Council Inc, who said the mission aimed to drive closer interaction between Myanmar and US businesses and to help American businesses in the country.

Feldman said bilateral economic ties have improved since the previous government’s term, and have further strengthened after State CounsellorAung San SuuKyi’s visit to the United States. “We focus a lot on the region, and are happy to work with UMFCCI because we believe in the future of Myanmar. We have conducted six major business meetings with Myanmar [companies] since 2012,” he said.

During the three-day mission on December 6-8, the business delegation also met with President HtinKyaw, State CounsellorAung San SuuKyi, key cabinet ministers, members of the Parliament including the Lower House Speaker Win Myint and the Myanmar Investment Commission.

The mission stressed the importance of intellectual property. In this regard, a meeting with the Lower House Speaker was a timely opportunity for American businesses to raise any concerns, and to underscore that a strong IP framework is critical to economic development and high-quality foreign investment, he said.

The drafts of Myanmar’s four long-delayed intellectual property laws_ copyright, trademark, industrial designs and patent laws_ have been submitted to the Parliament and are likely to be approved during the current session.

Wide range of sectors

Feldman said the delegation represented leading US businesses from a wide range of sectors including manufacturing, financial services, insurance, legal consultancy, electricity generation, pharmaceutical industry, food industry, information technology, cosmetics, oil and gas exploration, and automobile manufacturers.

Major companies including General Electric (GE), General Motors, Ford, Chevron, Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Visa, MasterCard, AIG and Baker McKenzie joined the mission.

Andrew Lee, chief country representative of GE, said US businesses keep their interest in Myanmar despite some obstacles such as a lack of infrastructure, clarity of business regulations as well as shortcomings in transparency and due diligence.

“It is usual that there are many challenges in moving a country forward. Infrastructure is really important. Myanmar needs to improve electricity, road connectivity and telecommunication. Empowering the youth is another core area that should be prioritised,” he said.

He is aware of the current economic slowdown but insists that it will not affect the US businesses’ interest in Myanmar. He urged inclusive efforts for sustainable growth.

Lee said the mission would not discuss about some internal issues, as it aimed at fruitful economic purposes.

“We do not talk much about the conflicts in Rakhine State, as everybody already knows it. It is all about how US businesses can contribute to further growth of Myanmar,” he said.

Zaw Min Win, president of UMFCCI, said Myanmar businesses look forward to US technology and access to the US market, as the nation’s power supply, means of transportation, digital communication, business management and skills are not sufficient enough to draw foreign investors.

“Promoting trade is more important than aids and grants. We warmly invite the opening of US departmental store chains in Myanmar as our middle-class is growing and American brand products are popular and in high demand here,” he said.

He urged American businesses to view compliance with reporting requirements set by the US Laws Abroad to be commercially and strategically competitive in Myanmar.

He said bilateral trade increased over two-fold last year, according to the Commerce Ministry’s statistics. Yet, the US investment in Myanmar is far behind that of China, Singapore, Thailand and the United Kingdom.