US aims to boost investment in Burma

Spending two days in Burma as a part of a commercial diplomacy tour in Southeast Asia, US Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker inaugurated a commercial service office at the US embassy in Rangoon on Friday.

Commercial service offices, as explained to DVB by Andrew Leahy of the US embassy, serve as “an advocate and liaison for US businesses attempting to invest in a particular country,” and work “directly with US businesses interested in learning more about a country or navigating the country’s economic environment.”

Pritzker’s regional tour was touted by the US Department of Commerce as one intended to elaborate on the economic dimension of President Obama’s pivot to Asia, with time spent in Burma intended to encourage the “building of soft and hard infrastructure necessary to support the growth of emerging partners.”

Her three-legged tour also included the Philippines and Vietnam.

Burma’s emergence as a US trade partner is distinguished most clearly by a jump in US exports to the once pariah state, which, according to the US embassy, ran from US$9.8 million in 2010 to $145 million in 2013. On top of this, as of 30 April 2014, US companies have plans to invest $243.6 million in the Burmese economy.

While that figure of American foreign direct investment (FDI) in Burma is dwarfed in comparison to the latest available US FDI figures for the Philippines, $4.6 billion, and Vietnam, $1.2 billion, the reaction by US firms to the 2012 removal of the majority of US economic sanctions has been swift.

On Thursday, Pritzker met Burmese President Thein Sein in Naypyidaw, as well as Vice President Nyan Tun and Shwe Mann, speaker of the Lower House.

To each she reportedly stressed the need for the Burmese government to “build on the progress that has been made by implementing measures that increase inclusive economic development, promote government transparency and accountability, and safeguard labour rights and human rights.”

That progress was evaluated last month and resulted in President Obama renewing the US classification of the situation in Burma as a “National Emergency.” With that motion, the limited economic sanctions that bind US businesses investing in Burma were renewed. Those sanctions, according to US Ambassador to Burma Derek Mitchell, primarily affect “individuals and entities that materially benefited from their close ties to the former regime and who are still impeding reform in this country, the so-called ‘specially designated nationals’.”

One such blacklisted entity, military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings (UMEH), is set to neighbour American company Ball Corporation at Thilawa Special Economic Zone (SEZ), currently under construction 20 kilometers south of Rangoon.

Ball Corporation will benefit from minimal government red tape and relaxed labour laws that characterise the SEZ, as will UMEH, a company already exempt from commercial and profit taxes. UMEH will continue to develop infrastructure plots at the zone, which includes heavy manufacturing and port facilities.

On Friday, representatives from Ball Company, as well as APR energy, who are constructing a large-scale thermal power plant in Burma, joined Priztler as she affirmed, “When our businesses make investments, they bring with them the highest standards, including a commitment to corporate and social responsibility.”

That comment came a day after Washington-based lobby group US Campaign for Burma (USCB) released what it called a “report card”, grading the six US companies that have each invested over $500,000 in Burma. Those companies were adjudged on levels of transparency, procedural behaviour, risk mitigation and social responsibility. USCB was only able to classify one of the companies, Coca-Cola, as a “responsible” investor, whereas two firms were designated as “questionable” and three as “irresponsible”.

One such “irresponsible” US company, Capital Group Companies Inc, was singled out for their relationship with Burmese concern Yoma Strategic Holdings. USCB links Yoma to “human rights abuses, including environmental destruction, forced displacement, land confiscation, political detentions, and labor abuses.” USCB also noted that Yoma was reviewed by the US Treasury for potential inclusion on their blacklist, for links to the previous military regime.

Yet Yoma have never featured on the list, and their CEO, Serge Pun is frequently referred to in the international media as “Mr Clean”. That title comes despite his flagship enterprise Yoma Bank not appearing on the list of 100 top Burmese corporate taxpayers list for 2011-12 nor the top 500 list for 2012-13.

That Serge Pun has been able to run a multitude of successful businesses in Burma under successive military regimes and the current quasi-civilian government has raised the suspicions of lobby groups such as USCB. Last month, USCB called for the International Finance Corporation to pull out of a development deal with Yoma.

The US embassy included Yoma in 2008 as a player in the Burmese government “system of economic patronage” which insures that “certain companies, often owned by regime cronies, receive key contracts and profitable business opportunities in exchange for their support for the regime.”

Yet Yoma, nor any company that Pun has been involved in, have ever been hit with sanctions, leaving Pun with a reputation as a professional and esteemed business leader in a national business environment which clearly fosters corruption.

Last week, Andrew Rickards, CEO of Yoma Strategic Holdings, told DVB that USCB’s allegations are “without substance” and that Yoma, “rejects the validity of these [USCB] calls.”

“If anything,” Rickards asserted, “Mr Pun should be congratulated.”

While pessimistic about the current performance of US private sector investment in Burma, USCB maintains that “Responsible US investment has the potential to further the US policy goal to support ‘the establishment of a peaceful, prosperous, and democratic state that respects human rights and the rule of law.’”

The rights watchdog will hope to be able to grade garment manufacturers Gap Inc with a pass mark on their next report. The fashion brand has recently announced the intention to open two factories in Burma and in doing so has indicated a commitment to corporate social responsibility.

source: DVB

Govt inspects tax liabilities of tax-evading cronies

The government is checking the actual tax liabilities of the business corporations which did not include in the top tax payers list, including Shwe Than Lwin (Sky Net), Dagon International and Asia World, according to the Deputy Information Minister-cum- president spokesperson Ye Htut.

The Weekly Eleven has printed the news “Govt needs to clarify obvious protection of tax-evading companies” on 1st June.

The news says that some of the top companies such as Kanbawza, Eden, Max Myanmar, Ayeyar Hinthar, Htoo, Ayeyar Shwe War, Red Link, Myanmar CP, and CB Bank are paying tax more and more yearly. Even companies closely related with the president like Shwe Taung and the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (UMEHL) paid tax. However, large corporations – to precise – Shwe Than Lwin (Sky Net), Dagon International, Asia World and other top construction groups did not involve in the top tax payers list. Therefore, the government should scrutinize the tax liability of such corporations.

The Deputy Information Minister Ye Htut responded the news on June 5.

Ye Htut said “The government is trying to fix the taxation system in order to increase the state revenue and the high-ranked companies to pay their actual liability. The government is giving certificate of honour to the top tax payers. The Board for Scrutinizing and Monitoring of Tax Collection has already been organized. The board is carrying out to collect the tax in advance, and setting the actual tax liability of those companies [Shwe Than Lwin, Asia World, Dagon Int’l and construction groups]. However, tax revenue will be different from each corporations based on the capital investment, profit generation and tax relief. We can’t say a company is tax evading for its payment is low. If you want to know the tax payment of such organisations, you should ask the revenue department.”

Thura Thaung Tin, the chairman of the Board for Scrutinizing and Monitoring of Tax Collection said that the board is currently inspecting the tax payers list for each sector like energy or construction. Once the company is found out the tax evasion, it has to pay the tax liability for three years.

The news in Weekly Eleven revealed that Shwe Than Lwin (Sky Net) has to pay at least US$ 500,000 taxes, with 5 percent taxing, based on selling 500,000 Sky Net signal receivers with US$ 20 to subscribers, which generate the station’s revenues of US$ 10 million.

Plus, the station should be paying more than Ks 10 billion annual taxes when accumulating on daily advertising income which could be Ks 40 million a day or Ks 14.6 billion for a year averagely and monthly service fee which is Ks 10,000 per subscribers when calculating on 500,000 subscribers that would be Ks 60 billion.

It is obvious that scrutiny should be applied why Shwe Than Lwin did not list in the top tax payers for FS 2012-13. It shall be scrutinized all twenty business units under Shwe Than Lwin did not include in the top tax payers list.

Regarding with the Asia World and its related businesses, the news printed that it shall be verified that the amount of tax paying by Asia World which involves in Myitsone Dam Project, its sister company which has permission for Thoutyaykhat (2) Project and its collecting Ks 4 billion toll fees.

Regarding with the Dagon International, the Weekly Eleven printed that the Dagon International is taking the Chair of the biggest business organisation in Myanmar, also exporting the large tons of logs yearly. The government should scrutinize whether the Dagon International is abusing the taxation law or the business is showing loss.

The trading tax has to be paid no matter what the business is profiting or losing. The state’s actual revenue will be gained by inspecting and monitoring such corporations’ tax payments.

source: Eleven Myanmar

Chinese Actor Meets Myanmar Fans in Yangon

Chinese actor Zhang Jinlai, famous for his role as the “Monkey King” in ’80s Chinese television series “Journey to the West”, recently met with Myanmar fans in Yangon, after his arrival in the former capital city on a visit to Myanmar at the invitation of the Myanmar-China Friendship Association.

Zhang Jinlai, also known by his stage name Liu Xiao Ling Tong (literally: “Little Six Year Old Child”), said: “I came here not only for meeting with Myanmar fans but also for further enhancing Paukphaw (fraternal) friendship between our two peoples.”

Zhang donated K1 million ($1,040) to Su Taung Pyae National Race Youth Development Charity School, home of more than 1,700 students, most of whom orphans or from poor families across the country. The gathering was sponsored by ASEAN-China Center, the Chinese Embassy in Myanmar and the Myanmar-China Friendship Association. Chinese Ambassador to Myanmar Yang Houlan, Secretary-General of ASEAN-China Center Ma Mingqiang and Chairman of Myanmar-China Friendship Association U Sein Win Aung were also present.

The visit of Zhang falls on China-ASEAN culture exchange year and plays a major role in culture exchange between Myanmar and China, said Ma.

Zhang later visited the new capital Nay Pyi Taw and the second largest city Mandalay. Zhang’s Myanmar visit is the second of a Chinese actor after Hollywood star Jackie Chan visited Myanmar on a UNICEF program in 2012.

Zhang portrayed the Monkey King (Sun Wukong) in the 1986 television series Journey to the West, which was adapted from the classic novel of the same title.

Source from Myanmar First Bilingual Business Journal Jun 5-11,2014

Second Israeli Film Festival in Myanmar This Month

The Israeli Embassy in Yangon is going to launch  the “Second Israeli Film Festival 2014″ this month. The festival will take place at Junction Cineplex in Myanmar’s capita Nay Pyi Taw from June 5 to 6, and al Myoma Cinema in Myanmar’s second largest city Mandalay from June 6 to 7.

The films to be screened at the second edition of the festival, which is a part of the framework of the cultural cooperation between Israel and Myanmar, revolve around community life, relationship and love, career and action.

“[The films] will give not only give a glimpse of the Israeli film industry but will also allow the Myanmar audience to see the Israeli daily life routine, the dilemmas and the diversity that the Israeli society is confronting,” the Israeli Embassy in Yangon said in a statement. The first Israel Film Festival was held in Yangon last November.

The opening film — “Something Sweet” — is a romantic drama taking place in an Israeli village, in the early 2000S. In the centre of the story stands Tamar, the eldest of three sisters, who gave up on her life dream to go back home and support her parents. The story starts with the middle sister’s wedding; then the youngest announces she is also engaged and presents her fiance to the family for the first time. This puts a lot of pressure Tamar, who is in a stable but not exciting relationship, and things get complicated when she falls in love with someone new.

“By Summer’s End” is set up in a small Israeli village, in the summer of 1978, one month prior to the Camp David peace accord. What troubles Michal is that her 7-year-old daughter, Maya, cannot read or write, and that her teacher wants to hold her back a year. Michal rises to the occasion and vows that by the end of the summer, Maya will learn how to read and write and will move on to the next grade. But this summer is set to be full of surprises for the family. Michal’s father, who’s been missing for 20 years, suddenly returns, and brings with him the family’s dark past and hidden secrets that have been dutifully repressed. The film won awards in the Rehovot Women’s international Film Festival 2011, and Israeli Film Centre in New York and Haifa International Film Festival 2011.

“Desperado Square” illustrates a romantic drama and awarded by the Israeli Film Academy for best director and best supporting actor. In an old neighbourhood, stuck in the past, the first anniversary of Morris Mandabon’s death is approaching, and his youngest son, Nissim has a dream. In the dream his father orders him to reopen the old neighbourhood movie theatre thus breaking the vow Morris had made years ago never to screen movies again.

“Operation Thunderbolt” is a film based on the true story of Air France flight 139 from Tel Aviv to Paris, via Athens, that was hijacked by four terrorists. After lending in Entebbe, Uganda, the Jewish passengers were separated and held hostage in demand to release many terrorists held in Israeli prisons. After much debate, the Israeli government sent an elite commando unit, to raid the airfield and release the hostages.

Source from Myanmar First Bilingual Business Journal Jun 5-11,2014

Microsoft Shows Off Real-Time Skype Translator

Microsoft Corp showed off a test version of a real-time, spoken-word translation service for Skype calls last week, the first time the world’s largest software company has demonstrated the breakthrough technology publicly in the United States.

Skype Translator, as it is currently called, allows speakers in different languages to hear the other’s words spoken in their own language, according to a demo introduced by Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella at the Code Conference technology gathering in California.

“It is going to make sure you can communicate with anybody without language barriers,” said Nadella, who took over as Microsoft CEO in February and is keen to re-establish the company as a technology leader after a decade of slipping behind Apple Inc and Google Inc in mobile computing.

Nadella described the underlying technology as “magical,” but said the task now was turn it into a real product rather than just a research project, promising it would launch by the end of the year. He did not say if it would be a free add-on for Skype users or a paid extra. Immediate reaction to the demo, featuring an English-speaking Microsoft executive chatting with a German counterpart, was mixed. One German-speaking audience member said the translation was good enough for vacation, but not for business.

The new technology, which Microsoft demoed in a rougher form 18 months ago in China, could represent a significant feature for its Skype online chat service, which boasts hundreds of millions of users. It is an advance on Microsoft’s current translation features that only work with written words on its Bing search engine and Internet Explorer browser.

Microsoft has been working hard on speech recognition technology for years. Earlier this year it showed off Cortana, its voice-activated “personal assistant” designed to rival Apple’s Siri.

Source from Myanmar First Bilingual Business Journal Jun 5-11,2014

LG Electronics Launches Revamped G3 Smartphone

South Korea’s LG Electronics Inc launched a revamped version of its flagship G3 high-end smartphone at a discount to its predecessor model last week and said it would ship more than 10 million units to improve its ailing handset business.

LG hopes the new G3 phone, which added metal film to the rear plastic cover to offer a polished metallic look, will pull its handset business out of the red and provide meaningful earnings momentum in the coming quarter.

The new device has a 5.5-inch screen with almost twice the resolution of its G2 predecessor with 538 pixels per inch (ppi). The resolution is also better than the 431 ppi screen on Samsung Electronics Co’s Galaxy S5 431. The new LG phone also features a laser focus for the camera.

The G3′s launch price of 899,800 Korean won ($880) is about 6 percent lower than the G2 in South Korea, highlighting the intensifying competition on both price and features among smartphone makers as market growth slows.

“Broadly speaking, business conditions should be better in the second quarter than the first quarter,” Park Jong-seok, chief executive of LG’s mobile business, told reporters during a briefing, citing the global launch of the G3 as a major factor.

Park declined to offer concrete earnings guidance and did not specify a timeframe on the shipment target for the G3, which will be rolled out worldwide to more than 170 carriers.

While LG did not disclose shipment figures for the G2, industry officials estimate that more than 5 million units of the device have shipped since its launch in August 2013.

LG brought forward the launch of the G3 to May amid market speculation that Apple Inc could reveal its next iPhone in August.

LG’s mobile division reported an operating loss of 9 billion won ($8.80 million) in the January-March quarter due to competition from Chinese rivals like Huawei Technologies and Lenovo Group.

Source from Myanmar First Bilingual Business Journal Jun 5-11,2014

Intel Readies 3D-Printed Robots for Handy Consumers

Intel Corp introduced a walking, talking robot last week made from 3D-printed parts that will be available to consumers later this year, if they are willing to assemble it with a kit that costs around $1,600.

The company’s Chief Executive Brian Krzanich was accompanied by “Jimmy” on stage at the Code Conference in California. The white 2-foot tall robot shuffled onto the stage, introduced itself and then waved its arms.

Intel describes Jimmy as a research robot, but the company intends to make 3D-printable plans available without charge for a slightly less advanced version, and partners will sell components that cannot be 3D- printed, such as motors and an Intel Edison processor, in kits. Jimmy can be programmed to sing, translate languages, send tweets and even serve a cold beer.

Source from Myanmar First Bilingual Business Journal Jun 5-11,2014

Italian Firm to Deploy $51-m Myanmar Mobile Backhaul Network

Italian wireless communications solutions provider, SIAE MICROLETTRONICA, said it was hired to provide its microwave radio solutions for by a telecoms firm operating in Myanmar for the latter’s network rollout.

Without specifying the name of the operator, the Milan-based firm said in a statement, “A leading global mobile operator is using SIAE MICROELETTRONICA microwave radio solution for building a state-of-the-art mobile wireless backhaul for a network offering HSPA and LTE services in Myanmar.”

In January, one of the two telecoms licence winner, Telenor, said it will invest $1 billion in Myanmar to set up mobile network using HSPA and LTE-ready technologies. The Norwegian firm said it plans to provide network coverage for go percent of the population in Myanmar within five years.

The greenfield backhaul network will mainly relay over full outdoor microwave radios, the firm said. The whole backhaul network comprises of two regions worth over $51 million and will be completed over a five years deployment period, SIRE added.

The firm said it will supply its ALFOplus Series packet microwave full outdoor solution to build backhaul network. Backhaul generally refers to the side of the network that communicates with the global Internet, paid for at wholesale commercial access rates to or at an Ethernet Exchange or other core network access location.

“This network consolidates our presence in the Asia Pacific region where we are steadily growing in several mobile networks,” Stefano Ferraresi, key sales account Myanmar, said.

“In this dynamic market our solution are highly valued thanks to the product long life span and best market power consumption performances,” he added.

SIRE MICROELETTRONICA, founded by Edoardo Mascetti as Societa Italiana Apparecchiature Elettroniche (Italian Company for Electronic Equipment) in 1952, is present in over 28 countries and offers operators technological solution for microwave and millimetre wave transport, services and design.

Source from Myanmar First Bilingual Business Journal Jun 5-11,2014

Yoma Boosts Myanamr Telco Tower Stake to 25pc

Singapore-based conglomerate Yoma Strategic Holdings (YSH) said it has ramped up its stake in its Myanmar telecoms tower venture firm from 8 percent to 25 percent.

YSH Finance Ltd, a subsidiary of Yoma, will now hold a quarter stake in Digicel Asian Holdings Pte Ltd while the rest will be held by Digicel Group – a telecoms firm that operates in 31 markets in the Caribbean, Central America and Asia Pacific and is backed by Irish billionaire Denis O’Brien.

YSH Finance Ltd is 80 percent owned by Yoma Strategic and 20 percent by First Myanmar Investment Co Ltd (FMI), an affiliate of Yoma Strategic.

YSH Finance had subscribed for an additional 420,000 new shares – representing 17 percent interest – in Digicel Asian Holdings for $427,333. This was funded in cash from Yo-ma’s placement proceeds raised in November 2012.

Yoma said it would benefit from partnering Digicel Group, given the latter’s experience and investment in the telco tower company business.

The telco tower firm said it intends to roll out telecommunications towers across Myanmar as the country seeks to rapidly increase mobile phone penetration following the award of two mobile telecommunications licences to international telecommunications operators.

Digicel Asian Holdings announced in December last year that it had been awarded a contract to provide telecommunications towers to Ooredoo Myanmar, one of the two international telecoms operators in Myanmar.

It is intended that these telecommunications towers will also be made available to other operators,” Yoma said in a statement.

Mobile subscriptions in Myanmar are projected to increase strongly within the next few years, from 1.3 million in 2014 to an estimated 30 million in 2015.

This significant growth in mobile users is expected to drive 20 percent of all foreign direct investment to the Myanmar telecommunications industry, an industry with an estimated $1 billion in FDI in 2014, and is on track to be the FDI leader in 2015.

Yoma Strategic posted a 44.9 percent drop in net profit to shareholders to $5.1 million for its fourth quarter ended March 31, 2014, down from $9.16 million a year ago.

Source from Myanmar First Bilingual Business Journal Jun 5-11,2014

Google BuildingSelf-Driving Cars with No Driver Seat, Steering Wheeling

Google Inc is building cars that don’t have steering wheels, accelerator pedals or brake pedals, in an ambitious expansion of the internet company’s efforts to develop self-driving cars.

The small electric cars, which seat two passengers, are currently prototypes that Google has been building through partnerships with automotive suppliers and manufacturers, Google co-founder Sergey Brin said at the Code conference in Southern California.

Google aims to build up to 200 such cars in the near term and hopes the vehicles will be available in various cities within a couple of years, he said.

Google has been testing self-driving cars since 2009, incorporating laser sensors and radars into standard automobiles such as the Prius from Toyota Motor Corp and sport-utility vehicles from Toyota luxury car division Lexus.

While those vehicles require a human to remain in the driver’s seat and to take over in certain situations, the new cars operate completely autonomously.

Brin said the cars could operate as a service, picking up passengers when summoned, and potentially even operate as fleets of interconnected “trains”.

“Ten seconds after getting in I was doing my email, I had forgotten I was there,” Brin said of his experience riding in one of the pod-like vehicles, which resemble a cross between a Smart car and Volkswagen Beetle. “It ultimately reminded me of catching a chairlift.”

Brin declined to specify whether Google intended to build and sell the cars itself, saying only that the company would “work with partners”.

The driverless cars are currently limited to a maximum speed of 25 miles (40 km) an hour, but Brin said there was no reason the cars could not go as fast as 100 miles an hour or more once they had been proven to be safe.

The front of the cars contains about 2 feet (61 cm) of foam and the windshield is made out of plastic instead of glass to make the cars safer, he said.

“Within a couple of years I hope we will surpass the safety metrics we’ve put in place, which is to be significantly safer than a human driver, and we will start testing them without drivers and hopefully you’ll be able to utilise them at some limited cities,” Brin said. A handful of US states, including California and Nevada, have passed legislation to allow testing of self-driving cars on public roads. Brin said he was optimistic that the new, passenger-only self-driving cars would be approved for testing in the US and overseas in the future.

Source from Myanmar First Bilingual Business Journal Jun 5-11,2014