Clearing the Myanmar visa hurdle

1“Bangkok! I need tickets to Bangkok!” he said in panic to a Jetstar customer service operator over the phone.

We were going to Yangon, Myanmar, having planned the trip a week ago.

But 10 hours before departure, a friend casually mentioned that we needed tourist visas for Myanmar, or risked being deported on arrival.

Currently only certain ASEAN countries, including Vietnam and Philippines, are allowed visa-free entry into Myanmar.

When we heard the news, we ran for Google. We searched through every forum post on Lonely Planet and TripAdvisor. It was a relief to know that we were not the only clueless individuals – that citizens of all ASEAN countries could presumably breeze their way around Southeast Asian with no immigration hassles.

But for Myanmar, most of us would still need a visa.

The only known place that could give you an instant Myanmar tourist visa was Bangkok, Thailand for 1280 Thai baht (S$49.70) a visa.

A Myanmar Tourist Visa

A Myanmar Tourist Visa

The Myanmar embassies in Malaysia (S$42.20 for a visa) and Singapore (S$124 for a visa) both offered visa application services. But the procedure required at least two working days, time we did not have. We found out about needing a visa on a Friday. Other tour agencies would take an average of five to 12 working days.

But we were determined to visit Yangon. After all it was just awarded “World Best Tourist Destination Award” by the European Council on Tourism and Trade, and saw almost 2.04 million visitors last year.

So at 7 am on Friday, we flew to Bangkok.

A European traveller told us there was usually a horde of backpackers, European tourists and locals outside the embassy. “If you want the visa on the same day, you’d better be there by 8.30 am.”

Of course we were caught in the famous Bangkok jam. But we arrived at Shan Road at 10.10 am, near the Myanmar embassy. It opens for visa applications, Monday to Friday, at 9 am and closes at 12 pm. Visa collection is from 3.30 pm to 4.30 pm.

At the embassy, I quickly realised that the Thais had also turned the ‘Bangkok Visa Run’ into a full-blown service industry. There were tens of people claiming to be agents who offered to ‘settle’ our visas for us.

“Go see see [sightseeing] in Bangkok. We do the visa for you. You come back at 4 pm, we give you the visa. 1800 baht (SGD 69.90) per person,” one travel agent said to me.

In the queue among travellers.

In the queue among travellers.

In the queue among travellers.

We did not want our passports stolen, not after what happened on MH370. We hotfooted our way to the embassy.

To our surprise, there were fewer than 30 people at the embassy. Of course, this was pure luck; we were told by a couple of seasoned travellers that sometimes you could be in the queue from 9.30 am, only to finish up at 12.30 pm.

Outside the embassy, there were at least five vans cashing in on ‘visa run’ travellers. They offered passport photo-taking and photocopying services, pens and application forms. Needless to say, their prices were heftier than anywhere else in Bangkok. But none of us had the time to bargain and they knew that well.

Minutes laters, we were equipped with all the necessary documents – application forms and two passport photos. For those who wanted their visa on the same day, proof of hotel reservation and air tickets to Myanmar were also required.

“Say you are a student, or unemployed,” I remembered someone advising us last night. Apparently, the embassy staff would get a little unsettled if you said you were a journalist, writer or photographer.

Oh, other details needed on the application form: description of your hair, complexion and eye colour- not weird at all.

We paid 1280 baht (S$ 49.70) for the same day visa, each, at the counter.

We returned to the embassy at 3.30 pm to collect our visa. Though there were hundreds of people, the counter staff were really efficient. We were in and out within 20 minutes.

Right after, we made a beeline for the airport and took a Golden Myanmar flight to Yangon at 7 pm that night.

We saw dozens of familiar faces at the airport, mainly European travellers who also came to Bangkok for a quickie visa into Myanmar.


By Trinity Chua



10 -2 -2014 To 16- 2-2014

This functional and imposing, if not overtly beautiful, structure is a classic example of administrative colonial architecture. Its main entrance is dom­inated by an oversized portico with coupled ion­ic columns and open-bed pediments.


This building was the last to be designed by John Begg, Consulting Archi­tect to the Government of India, for Yangon. It was designed as a four-storey, steel-framed building with brick walls between stanchions placed at 20-foot intervals. During early excavation work, the con­tractor discovered that part of the plot was severely waterlogged and innova­tive methods were used to remedy the situation. Piles 9 inches in diameter were sunk across the swampy area and Filled with sand. The sand was stirred for days until it became Firm and dry. The entire site was then leveled with more sand and covered with 25 inches of fine cement.

At the time of its con­struction, the Telegraph Office offered Yangon residents the technolog­ical wonder of speedy communications with the rest of the world, and this building has always been associated with informa­tion travelling into and out of the country.

Not long after the Jap­anese captured Yangon in World War II, the new authorities issued an order for city residents to bring their radios to the Telegraph Office to have them converted so they would be unable to receive Allied news broad­casts from India. After months passed and the radios were not returned, it was surmised that the authorities had used the announcement as a ruse to confiscate private wireless sets and pre­vent any news of the war from spreading through Yangon.

In the 1950s, after Inde­pendence, this building was still the only agency handling foreign cables, with about 96,000 outgo­ing and 87,000 incoming messages sent per year The Telegraph Office contin­ued to serve its purpose as a link to the outside world during the socialist period and, throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, was still favoured by city residents for its reliable domestic telephone lines and inter­national fax services.


Today, other communi­cation technologies have superseded the useful­ness of the Telegraph Office. The building is owned by the Ministry of Communications, Posts & Telegraphs, and the ground floor is currently being used as a telephone mail, with stalls selling mobile phones and SIM cards.

Diagonally across the intersection, on the northeast corner, is a colourful building hous­ing various shops that include the Kyaw Horne Mart. This was formerly the Tejoomal Building, an emporium of oriental curios that sold a wide selection of silverware, silks, and carvings frog across Asia.


Source : Traveller journal

The effect of decreasing tourism sector because of the political situation in Thailand on Myanmar tourism

10 -2 -2014 To 16- 2-2014

The tourist arrivals in Myanmar have the potential to rise up be­cause of the situation in Thailand and decreasing the foreigner travelers in Thailand but the hotel business, airline business, restaurants and car rental services related to tourism should negotiate their cost as reasonably to attract the travelers depending on the situation, advised by the experts from the tourism sector.

Deputy President (2) U Thet Lwin from Myanmar Tourism Association said, “It is impossible to transfer the trip from Thailand to Myanmar. The travelers will choose the other countries which is cheaper than Myanmar because the expense in Myanmar is higher than other coun­tries.”.

In the current, the tourist arrival from Thailand is decreased but the foreign travelers from Western countries are bound to grow.

“The traveler from Amer­ican is going up because of the situation in Thailand,” said by the president U Zaw Win Cho from Myan­mar Tourism Association.”

The direct airlines to Myanmar is connected not only Thailand but also Singapore, Malaysia and Cambodia countries so the situation in Thailand cannot effect the Myanmar Tourism.

He applied, “tourists have the potential to travel in Myanmar. But the airline transportation charges in Myanmar as locally is USD 100 so it is nearly equal the transportation fees of Bangkok which cost USD $120. In the restaurant, the foreigners have to use USD 10 to 12”.


Source : Traveller journal

Sixty Three Irrawaddy dolphins were found in the research trip of 2014

10 -2 -2014 To 16- 2-2014

The research project for the Irrawaddy dolphins on the analysis of protection and threatening factor will be operated depending on the dolphin population and life behavior in 11 to 26 January, 2014, announced by WCE.

The research team will be discovered along the Mandalay- Bamow to Manda­lay trip and 21 dolphins are researched at Irrawaddy dolphins’ maintenance zone between Min con and Kyauk Myu­ang city, 28 dolphins in the third narrow river between Shwegu and Tha Bake Kyin city and 14 dolphins in Narrow River of the surrounding Bamow city.

“We found more dolphins than past year but it doesn’t mean that the num­ber of dolphins is increasing. In the pre­vious year, we don’t discover most of the river as detail according to the condition so we can’t tell the number exactly. But the dolphins number found in this year meet the target of 2010,” said by the responsible person U Han Win from the Irrawaddy dolphins maintenance group.

The Irrawaddy dolphin’s research re­cord listed that 70 numbers of dolphins found in 2010, 50 number in 2013 and 63 number in 2014 as yearly.


Source : Traveller journal

Myauk Oo airport will be upgraded intended to raise the tourist arrival

10 -2 -2014 To 16- 2-2014

The Myauk Oo airfield in Rakhine State will be reno­vated in this year with the purpose of increasing the tourist arrivals, said by the Deputy minister Dr. Tin Shwe from the Ministry of hotels and tourism.

This renovation of airport was answered by the deputy minister according to the questions of whether the airport will be constructed or not asked by the MP’s (Member of Parliament) U Kyaw Kyaw from the no (2) Rakhine State in the Amyo Thar Hluttaw.

Dr. Tin Shwe applied, “As the repairing process, we will start with the mea­surement of ground level, environmental situation and land situation.”

MP’s U Kyaw Kyaw said that,” Myauk Oo city is attracted with historical pagodas and significant places to the tourists but the transportation is only avail­able with water and motor way so the tourist arrivals is still decreased.

“Locals are expected to improve the tourism indus­try,” he applied.

The airport was con­structed with the length of 2500 feet, the width of 100 feet with the land and without maintenance, the airfield is impossible to land, announced by the transportation ministry.

The tourist arrivals in Myauk Oo city in Rakhine State is 339 numbers in 2012 but on 2013, the number in­creased to 646 number then the six hotels are supported with 149 rooms, announced by the ministry of hotels and tourism.


Source : Traveller journal

The black purse lost on Mandalay by tourist is returned back

10 -2 -2014 To 16- 2-2014

The black purse lost by the American citizen tourist was received back from the security police force for tourism (Mandalay) on 4 pm, 27 January in Chan Aye Thar Zan Township, Manda­lay region.

The purse lost by Mr. Fa lbawskl Krukzp lived in Rich Queen hotel, Chan Aye Tar Zan City was included with Visa, Bank Money issued card, American Express bank money issued card, life insurance card from Empire Medi-Blue, driver license and two of USD five dollars and one dollar cash and the tourist phoned the police force of tourism and asked for help to investigate.

The police force (Manda­lay) was investigated across the places which were popular among the tourists and get information that the black purse was found on the grass of Mya Nan Kyaw goldern palace, Chan Aye Thar Zan Township and get by one of the staff. The police force went and inspected then takes the foreigner to show the purse and returned it back


Source : Traveller journal

Cable Car project will be implemented at Zwe Ka Pin Pagoda in Hpa-An City

10 -2 -2014 To 16- 2-2014

The cable car project will be constructed in Zwe Ka Pin Swe Taw Shin Pagoda, Hpa-An city, Kayin State with the organization of Pi nam abbot from Great World Thanni Thu Kha monastery, Zaw Ka Pin ab­bot, the abbot from Min­galar Pariyat Ti Monastery and cooperated between SMETSD ABHD company from Malaysia country and the expert from Myanmar Engineering association.

The Zwe Ka Pin pagoda is situated the 7 miles from the south of Hpa-An City and 2734 feet high above the sea level, 20 miles long from South to North.

The cable car can carry 40 numbers of people with the electric motor and the cable rope has 38 mm width and can utilize for 10 to 15 years.

The mountain has to climb 1650 in for 2 half or 3 hours but after the project is finished, the travelers only have to take a few minutes and this project will cost 20 million.

The cable car is the first and only project in Nlyan­mar with the collaboration of government society,locals, peace organization and donators with the purpose of convenience of going to Zwe Ka Pin Pagoda.


Source : Traveller journal

German President will come to Myanmar as the first time

10 -2 -2014 To 16- 2-2014

Germany president Mr. Joachin Gauck will present as the primary time at the first economic forum in Myan­mar between Germany and Myanmar on 11 February, said by Mr. Patrick Benny from DW Akademie resident in Germany to the Voice Journal.

In this trip, the president wife Ms.Daniela Schadt will follow and meet with the Myanmar journalists, applied by him.

The detail of this trip plan is not fully known but the German President will come, said by the responsible person from the president office.


Source: Traveller journal

Lowing down the water level in Irrawaddy River causes the delay of transportation

10 -2 -2014 To 16- 2-2014

The Irrawaddy River is starting to face with the problem of water traffic and low down the water lever accompanying with the delaying the trip and destroying the river, said by the travelers across the Irrawaddy River.

The motor driver said that this water traffic was started to happen in Feb­ruary as yearly but in this year is started to face on January.

“We only need to take a bit more than 1 hour from Mandalay to Mincon city. But now, we have to take more than 1 hour because of the water traffic and take longer way in the river, the sand is appearing in the river more than year after year so we have to take more time,” applied by the motor transporter.

The Irrawaddy river transportation between Mandaly- Bamow trip of Madayar Township, Shwe Bo district, Tha Bake Kyin Township, HtikintTown­ship, Shwe Ku Township and Kathar district are fac­ing with the water traffic.

The passengers across the Irrawaddy River said that,” the trip across the Mandalay- Bamow is difficult as it actually needs to take one day but we travelled it for three days and the worst is in the Ma Lwe and Thein Tang Wae Place.

During the lowing water level, repairing the river transportation and digging the sand above the water are performing.


Source : Traveller journal

Myanma Railway will offer the Blue Train service to the foreign travellers

10 -2 -2014 To 16- 2-2014

The myanma railway planned to operate the Blue Train ordered from Japan was reconstructed for the passengers to match with the Myanmar rail road including the bed sec­tion of train (Upper class), the seat sector (Upper class), restaurant sector and the meeting sector with the purpose of the ef­ficiency of passengers and the Myanma railway.

The Train was con­structed with one bed sector of train (normal class) for 12 passengers comprised with eight rooms can take one passenger per room and 2 rooms of 2 passengers, three bed sectors of train (upper class) with 8 rooms for 2 passenger, one sector for 12 seats, three sectors of restau­rants for 28 travelers and the seat sectors for 52 passengers so the train is assembled with 9 sectors.

This train will be transported along the Bagan-Kyauk Pan Daung trip, Mawlamyine-Thein Byu rest house and Mandalay-Bagan trip and the tailored made trips. The proposals are invited from the tourism busi­nesses and the business which want to operate the restaurant industry to work with the Blue Train and the train will be rented as whole or partially to the tourism business for the tailor- made trip.

This train was located at Myit Nge Industry and on 15 January, the tourism businesses from Yangon and Mandalay are invited and explained. The businesses which are interested to rent the train and to sell the trip plan of the train can inquire at train industry at Myit Nge city, Mandalay region and collect information from the General Manager (Myit Nge Industry).

The interested tourism business can report the proposals to Myanma rail­way to the Director Gen­eral on 14 February and based on the proposals the rules will be issued and managed the tender so the tourism and restaurant businesses are invited.


Source : Traveller journal

Chinese New Year in Yangon is celebrated with Dragon, Lion and Chinese Traditional Dance

10 -2 -2014 To 16- 2-2014

The shopper in Chi­nese town said, “this is the 9th times as yearly to celebrate the competition of lion dancing ability with the purpose of be alive with the audience in the Chinese new year. Now the participants for this competition are also increasing. This year, eight teams will be participated and get a lot more joyful for the audience.”

This lion dancing is held each road and with the cooperation of Chinese Buddha monasteries, the dragon dancing competi­tions, Chinese traditional songs and dancing are demonstrated in one of the monasteries.

The nun from the Chinese Buddha monas­tery in South Oakkalapa Township said, “In the new year, we celebrate with the New Year song and dance with the cooperation of interested people in huge monasteries and do a wish at the related people house with the New Year dance.”

The owners from the present and food shop said, “The new year day is more important than normal day so the food, candles, joss and the other memorable presents are the high demand for the devotional offering of god and grandparents so the traditional food of Ei Kwe is the essential for paying homage.”

Chinese New year is the time to pay respect to god, angels, parents and grandparents and doing the wishes.

“We held the new year festivals and other pay­ing respect activities. We planned to pay respect with various foods at monasteries and home. We grant the reward money (ann Pound) and treat with foods to the groups of dragon dancing, lion danc­ing who went to home and do a wish,” applied by Daw San San from Baham.

The Chinese New Year festival is held across the roads, houses, monaster­ies with Chinese traditional ceremonies and in shopping centers, a lot of people are participated with New Year shopping festivals and other enter­tainments.


Source :Traveller journal

Burma Designated 2014 ‘World Best Tourist Destination’ by EU Body

RANGOON — The European Council on Tourism and Trade will hand Burma the “World Best Tourist Destination Award” for 2014, one of the highest accolades in the global travel and tourism industry, according to the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism.

“This award will draw more tourists to our country,” Aung Zaw Win, director general of the ministry, told The Irrawaddy on Monday, adding that tourism was one of the country’s most promising industries at present.

The European Council on Tourism and Trade, which draws its members from 27 nations of the European Union, has been awarding the honor annually since 2007. Syria, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates (twice winner), South Korea, Trinidad and Tobago, and Laos are all past recipients of the World Best Tourist Destination Award, according to the ECTT website.

The award goes to “countries that are embracing tourism as a resource for cultural and social development, who respect ethics of human relations and preserve cultural and natural heritage. As the receivers, cities and countries must prove their commitment towards sustainable development, fair tourism and historical preservation,” the ECTT website states.

“All types of tourism are available in Myanmar,” Aung Zaw Win said. “We can offer marine tourism, cultural tourism, ecotourism, community tourism, trekking, other things and also snow-capped mountains.”

The director general said that having drawn 2.04 million tourists to Burma last year, the government is planning for 3 million foreign arrivals this year.

“The tourist numbers visiting Burma in 2013 increased by 93 percent over 2012. There is no comparably sharp rise anywhere in the world tourism industry,” he said, adding that the past two months had seen 487,000 tourist arrivals to Burma.

“The title should act as a booster for tourism” to the winner of the award, which must be a non-European country, the ECTT website says.

A letter sent by the European Union Council to the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism said Burma would also be declared its 2014 “Favorite Cultural Destination,” according to Burma’s state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper.

“I hope that more tourists will visit our country with the presentation of the World Best Tourist Destination for 2014,” said Theingi, director of Exotic Myanmar Travels & Tours Company.

She added that more experienced guides, restaurants, hotels and airline linkages would be needed to accommodate what an expected boom in tourism over the coming years.

Aung Zaw Win of the Hotels and Tourism Ministry said that currently, there are more than 1,300 licensed tour companies in Burma, and more than 20 domestic and foreign airlines fly routes into Burma. Accommodation is increasing by about 6,000 hotel rooms each year, he added.

The country’s tourism industry is widely considered to be underdeveloped, and travel to Burma has been a politically sensitive issue for more than two decades. Long-time democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi for many years discouraged foreigners from visiting the country, saying their money would only go toward enriching the ruling military junta and its crony business allies who largely monopolized the industry.

With the country’s transition to nominally civilian rule in 2011, Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party has since signaled it “would welcome visitors who are keen to promote the welfare of the common people and the conservation of the environment and to acquire an insight into the cultural, political and social life of the country while enjoying a happy and fulfilling holiday in Burma.”

source: The Irrawaddy

Myanmar revises deadline for export log payments

Mar 11, 2014. /Lesprom Network/. Myanmar’s export shipments from 1 April 2013 to end January 2014 are estimated to have been 397,807 cubic metres of teak logs and 1,307,095 cubic metres of other hardwood logs. Total export shipments for the 2012-13 fiscal year were 494,650 cubic metres of teak logs and 1,561,540 cubic metres of other hardwood logs, as ITTO reported.

Though shipments this year are likely to exceed those of the previous year, analysts do not expect to see any significant change in export volumes. However, recently shipments from Yangon Port have increased.

It has been reported that the date for final payment for logs that are ready to be exported has been extended to 31 March 2014 rather than the previously announced date of 28 February 2014. However, overseas buyers are advised to ship all logs by midnight 31 March 2014.

Logs that are not shipped before the 1 April deadline will have to be processed in some way in Myanmar.

The date for final payment of these logs has been extended to 30 September 2014 instead of the previously announced 30 June 2014.

source: Lesprom

Pushing legal frontiers

The latest outpost in Myanmar of one of the largest international law firms was born out of a sense of adventure and despite being small in size, Baker & McKenzie has big plans, managing partner Christopher Hughes said.

“This is a country in transition and there is optimism that follows that,” Mr. Hugh’s told The Myanmar Times from the firm’s recently opened offices in Yangon.

“I don’t think there are too many places like [Myanmar] right now. From a lawyer’s point of view, there are very significant reform efforts going on,” he said.

Mr Hughes was made partner in the Sydney office three and a half years ago and began turning his mind to where his next venture would lie.

“Australia is a long way away from a lot of places,” he said. “One of the drivers for me doing law was to have international experience … I’d always wanted to spend more time living up here.

“The law reform agenda is ambitious and it is going to take a little while to completely fill in the regulatory framework. Lots of good primary legislation and detail and implementation of that will follow,” Mr Hughes said. “With an agenda of that size, obviously there is a bit of bandwidth issue. So much is happening and so much happening at once. The logic of the change is very good, but it will take a bit of time.”

The office currently has two foreign lawyers, including Mr Hughes, and five Myanmar lawyers who are focusing on the firm’s intellectual property practice and a commercial and corporate advisory practice mainly working for regional multinationals looking to enter the Myanmar market, he said.

“[The advisory work] is something we can do for our clients, explain the dynamics of what it’s like to work here,” he said. “Some of the doing business indexes and transparency indexes and so on have come out and shown Myanmar is moving in the right direction but it is also at the lower end of those indexes, so while the raw materials and opportunities here are great, the ease of doing business is still a little difficult and part of that is driven by unfamiliarity.

“People are naturally worried whenever they invest in new jurisdictions around compliance and doing business issues there,” he said, adding that navigating the legal framework and currently financial system of the country were often cause for pause among foreign investors.

“The reform agenda of the government, particularly in the area of improving and modernising the commercial laws that are going to drive investment here, is very positive,” he said, adding that he expected the volume of business to increase dramatically once important infrastructure and legislation was in place.

source: The Myanmar Times

MOL looks at Myanmar expansion

Tokyo: Japan’s Mitsui O.S.K. Lines (MOL) is eyeing more business beyond container shipping in Myanmar. Apart from future expansion on the containership businesses in Myanmar, MOL may expand in time its other businesses to cover bulkers, tankers and car carriers, the company said in a release.

MOL hosted an appreciation cocktail party for government leaders, customers, partners and MOL employees on March 5 at Park Royal Hotel, Yangon. It was well attended by 110 guests including Ichiro Maruyama, Minister-Counsellor/Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of Japan, reaffirming MOL’s expansion plan in the containership business in Myanmar and its commitment in furthering the country’s economic development.

“It is my honour to visit Myanmar and I am deeply grateful to the Myanmar government, customers and partners for their continued support in MOL’s business development. Over the years, MOL has grown in tandem with Myanmar and we have long become one of the country’s closest partners,” said MOL president Koichi Muto. “As Myanmar continues to open up and expand, we see the country standing in front of a new world – a world of growing economic opportunities of trade/infrastructure development and regional strategic hub position for maritime transportation. MOL is pleased to work together with the country to seize the growth opportunities by further expanding our containership businesses in time.”

MOL’s presence in Myanmar dates back to 1898 when the first cargo ship Hikosan Maru called at the Port of Yangon. Since March 2012, a direct service linking Singapore and Yangon has been established. In October 2012, MOL established MOL Myanmar Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of MOL.

source: SeaShip News

EU and Myanmar get set to ink new int’l arbitration agreement

Negotiations have begun for an EU investor protection agreement with Myanmar that would imbed international arbitration as the preferential dispute mechanism, although observers said such a clause could ultimately be detrimental for the country.

The EU Commission and the Myanmar Ministry of Finance began negotiations for the agreement last week – a move that would encourage European investor confidence in new Myanmar markets, EU Ambassador Roland Kobia said.

“By creating legal certainty and predictability for companies, investment protection will help to attract and maintain FDI to underpin Myanmar’s economy. We hope that this bilateral agreement will be swiftly concluded,” Mr Kobia said in an email to The Myanmar Times.

“The main reason for having an ISDS [investor-state dispute settlement] mechanism is because in many countries international agreements are not directly enforceable in domestic courts and therefore an investor cannot find relief in domestic court,” Mr Kobia said.

Investor-state dispute settlements allow a private corporation to sue a state in international arbitration in the event of a trade agreement breach. The mechanism is often a trade pre-requisite for multinationals investing in foreign jurisdictions.

Negotiations for the investor protection agreement come on the back of the EU including Myanmar on its General System of Preferences last year.

“The country’s current investment framework leaves some questions unanswered with respect to investor protection,” Mr Kobia said. “In addition, some events under previous governments of Myanmar (nationalisations, etc) have had a profound negative impact on European companies.”

Myanmar has already signed seven such agreements with its Asian neighbours and acceded to the New York Convention on international arbitration in 2013, said U Aung Naing Oo, adding that the government would continue enacting investor protection agreements that allowed international arbitration.

Pietje Vervest, a fellow at the New York and Netherlands-based social justice NGO Transnational Institute, said the language of such treaties is typically very broad, allowing investors the right to sue the government over any and all policy that will be deemed to hurt their profits.

“[International arbiters] are usually just a group of three people deciding what’s in the public interest,” she said, adding the proceedings effectively gave a “blank check” to big business.

Ms Vervest pointed to the ongoing case of Uruguay vs Philip Morris Tobacco, where the cigarette manufacturing giant launched international arbitration proceedings against the South American country’s government over legislation requiring larger health warnings on tobacco products.

Likewise, Swedish energy multinational Vattenfall took the German government to international arbitration in 2009 over stricter environmental restrictions on coal powered plants. Both lawsuits were made possible under bilateral trade agreements.

“Even if the nations win in these disputes, they still lose,” said Ms Vervest, pointing out that arbitration battles often require millions from the public budget.

According to World Bank data, the average cost of an international arbitration suit is US$8 million, while the total number of cases have increased 35pc since the global financial crisis hit world markets in 2008.

Baker & McKenzie managing partner Christopher Hughes agreed investor-state disputes could be resource intensive and potentially divert much-needed government resources.

“However, on balance, given the confidence that foreign investors will gain from the availability of investor-state dispute mechanism and the lowering political and regulation change risks in investing in emerging markets, we think that the benefits to Myanmar outweigh the potential disadvantages associated with such treaties,” Mr Hughes said by email, adding that such arbitration was usually only a “last resort” for private players.

“Hence, we do not expect to see a flurry of such disputes,” said Mr Hughes.

source: The Myanmar Times

Burma seeks minimum wage amidst labour shortage

As foreign investors in the garment sector trickle into Myanmar/Burma, local research companies and the International Labour Organization (ILO) are undertaking a study that could prompt the country’s parliament to pass a minimum wage law by December this year.

The study, for which one local participant is the Myanmar Marketing and Research Development Co (MMRD), will look at how local factories are struggling to cope with a labour shortage, partly attributed to low available salaries.

Dr U Aung Win, vice-chairperson of the Myanmar Garments Manufacturers Association, described the current labour shortage as a “big problem.”

“Foreign investors are recruiting garment workers from locally owned factories by paying them higher salaries. This saves them from having to train workers, but it means that local factory owners must train new workers every month – or sometimes every day,” he told just-style.

He added a significant number of mainland Chinese and Hong Kong-owned factories have opened recently in the country.

Dr Aung Win expressed concern about demands made by garment sector trade unions across Myanmar – which currently number around 40 – claiming they are impractical.

“Unions are demanding that workers be paid US$5 a day, or about US$150 a month, and US$200 including overtime. There are so many jobless graduates who can speak some English yet can’t even find a salary of US$80 a month. These demands are simply unrealistic,” he added.

He said the average skilled worker at a garment factory earns approximately US$110 a month, at present, with a maximum salary of US$150 counting overtime. Meanwhile, an “unskilled helper” earns US$70.

The association has met with union representatives and factory owners for “constructive engagement” and he added: “We’ll continue to meet and hope that workers will begin to understand the practical limitations on wages.”

Minimum wages could differ by sector and geographical region, suggested Dr Aung Win, with the commercial capital of Yangon commanding the highest rates. “Investors are already setting up factories 20 miles outside Yangon because it’s cheaper,” he said.

Encourage foreign investment

Nyan Lynn Aung, director of the advisory firm FiNE9, which connects foreign and domestic investors in Myanmar, and most often in the garment sector, said that establishing a minimum wage will encourage foreign investment.

“Investors will know what they are getting in for – but it’s important to remember that a minimum wage will only be a minimum. Foreign owners are generally wealthier than their local counterparts and can pay more if demand for labour outstrips supply.”

Peter Witton, director of Anthem Asia, an independent investment and advisory group promoting sustainable business in Myanmar and other frontier markets across Asia, told just-style: “An officially-sanctioned minimum wage sends a signal about expectations…However, wages are just one issue in Myanmar at this time.”

He explained that local garment workers lack skills and experience, which can compound the chronic labour shortages. “Garment factories need to train staff, and smart ones will pay a decent wage to keep hold of the people they have invested time and money in training.”

However, he added that a minimum wage alone cannot solve current labour problems.

“If a [garment worker] gets the same [salary] wherever they work, then the employer who provides the best environment and benefits will be the preferred place to work.”

source: Just-Style