Singapore hints at increased role

By Aye Thidar Kyaw
Volume 31, No. 615
February 20 - 26, 2012

A delegate delivers a speech to Singaporean businesspeople visiting Yangon last week.
Pic: Juliet Shwe Gaung

A HIGH-LEVEL business delegation from Singapore last week wrapped up a week-long fact finding mission to Myanmar, a Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry spokesperson said.

The delegation of more than 100 of Singapore’s top businessmen, representing 71 companies, visited Myanmar from February 12-18 to meet the business community, government ministers and officials, he said.

The business mission was jointly organised by the Singapore Business Federation (SBF), International Enterprise Singapore and the UMFCCI.

SBF and UMFCCI signed an agreement to develop trade, joint-venture businesses and investment on February 13 in Yangon.

“This delegation has a strong influence in Singapore’s business community and was not like other delegations,” said an official from UMFCCI’s International Relations Department.

He said the delegates represented companies engaged in trading, manufacturing and investment, distribution, oil and gas production and logistics.

Myanmar Investment Commission chairman and Minister for Industry U Soe Thein said at the Myanmar International Convention Centre in Nay Pyi Taw on February 15 that Singapore and Myanmar had enjoyed strong business links in the early to mid-1990s but had drifted apart in recent years.

However, he hoped to reignite old ties and encourage Singaporean businesses to play a bigger role in Myanmar.

“Myanmar has weaknesses in [its] economy and other political issues … [and has been] left behind neighbouring countries. But President U Thein Sein’s reforms are aimed at economic and political consolidation,” he added.

As of December 2011, Singapore’s investment in Myanmar amounted to US$2 billion, with most invested in hotels and tourism, real estate, industrial estates and oil and gas.

In 1997, Singapore was Myanmar's biggest foreign direct investor but had fallen to sixth by 2011, MIC figures showed.

“That’s obviously because Singapore is a small country and we don’t have anywhere near as many projects as China, which has brought a lot of investment into Myanmar in recent years,” said Ms Edith Cheong, a member of the delegation.

She added that as Myanmar continued in its economic reforms, amended its investment laws and welcomed Western countries, Singapore’s trade, joint-venture businesses and investments would enter Myanmar.

SBF chairman Mr Tony Chew Leong-Chee said: “I am confident that Singapore can contribute towards Myanmar’s economic development.”

He added the International Monetary Fund had said in a January 24 press release that Myanmar’s economic growth in the next financial year would be about 5.5pc of its gross domestic product. However, that growth would depend on a stable currency and political environment.

A spokesperson for a domestic logistics company who took part in a business matching session in Yangon on February 13, said he had noticed a keen interest in the Dawei project.

“In my opinion, these logistics businessmen were most interested in the Dawei deepsea port, where they want to invest during the planning period.

“They want to earn market share in Dawei that they’ve lost in Singapore,” he said.

Ministry of Commerce statistics show that bilateral trade in the 2011-12 year to December amounted to about $2.4 billion, with exports of mainly agro-based goods earning $460 million and imports of machinery and electronics worth about $1.95 billion.