Myanmar president enacts foreign investment law

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 November, 2012, 9:45pm
UPDATED : Friday, 02 November, 2012, 9:45pm

Myanmar’s reformist leader on Friday signed into law an eagerly awaited foreign investment bill aimed at reviving the country’s economy as it emerges from decades of military rule, his office said.

The enactment follows weeks of wrangling about how far to open the doors to overseas firms, with “cronies” of the former junta who grew rich thanks to their links to the generals thought to have opposed rapid change.

“Investors are waiting for the bill to be approved. That’s why he signed it as soon as he could,” Zaw Htay, an official in President Thein Sein’s office, told reporters by telephone.

He said the former general wanted to enact the bill before flying to Laos to attend a major summit of Asian and European leaders which starts on Monday.

A business-friendly version of the bill was approved by parliament on Thursday, after Thein Sein sent back an earlier draft to lawmakers amid concerns that it was too protectionist.

An earlier limit of 50 per cent for a foreign investor’s stake in a joint venture has been dropped, and the new version allows the investment ratio to be decided by the foreign and local partners, MPs said.

More detailed rules for each sector will be drawn up by the Myanmar Investment Commission.

The move comes as global corporate giants from Coca-Cola to General Electric line up to enter the impoverished but resource-rich nation, which is emerging from decades of international isolation.

One of the major complaints of businesses eager to enter the country formerly known as Burma has been the lack of a clear legal framework.

“I think it will attract investors who are interested to come to Myanmar,” said Aung Kyi Nyunt, a lawmaker with Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy opposition party.

Thein Sein has vowed to put the economy at the centre of a new wave of reforms, following dramatic political changes since almost half a century of outright military rule ended last year.

In response, the West has begun rolling back sanctions and foreign firms are lining up to invest in the country, eyeing its huge natural resources, large population and strategic location between China and India.