Myanmar seeking investment from PH agri firms

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Myanmar’s new investment law allowing 100 percent foreign ownership should attract Filipino companies to invest in agriculture, the head of a major Myanmar agricultural firm said, citing opportunities for investors in rice, banana, and coconut.

Tin Htut Oo, Chairman of Myanmar’s Yoma Strategic Holdings Co. Ltd (YSHCL) Agriculture Group, assured Filipino companies that Myanmar is a highly favorable investment destination in Asia with its new aggressive market-oriented foreign policy.

Speaking as an awardee of the prestigious DL Umali Award of the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA), Oo said Myanmar’s new foreign investment policy will have implementing rules by 2017.

“We’re aspiring to be not just a rice bowl, [but]a food basket in Asia,” said Oo at SEARCA’s awarding ceremony at its Los Baños, Laguna headquarters.

The Myanmar Foreign Investment Law of 2012 was recently appended with Notification 26/2016, under which foreign companies in Myanmar may be 100 percent foreign-owned.

“The law was enacted by the parliament. What we need to come up with is the procedure that will come out by 2017. The law provides a lot of benefits and incentives because Myanmar needs investment not only for capital but the technology and market access,” Oo said in a separate press briefing.

Rice is one prospective foreign investment commodity.

“Philippines is a rice importing country. Myanmar is a rice surplus country. For Filipino entrepreneurs, why not come to Myanmar and invest? You grow it (in Myanmar). We buy it. We mill it, and we export it to the Philippines,” said the SEARCA awardee, who has been globally recognized for his contribution to Myanmar’s agriculture sector.

Coconut and banana plantation establishment, in which the Philippines is considered a global leader, are also top farm products Filipino companies can invest in Myanmar, he said.

“You are successful in coconut (in which) you have downstream businesses. We’re not utilizing coconut as much as the Philippines. It’s not a commercial crop. Filipino entrepreneurs can turn our industry (into a commercial one),” said Oo.

Dr. Gil C. Saguiguit Jr., SEARCA director, said in the same briefing that both Myanmar and the Philippines could have partnerships that can take advantage of the ongoing Asean economic integration.

“In view of the Asean Economic Community, we’re taking the value chain to develop our agriculture sectors. The Asean is a common market for us. That’s where you address comparative advantage,” said Saguiguit.

Another new investment law in Myanmar that Oo highlighted is the Citizens Investment Law of 2013. It allows for partnerships Myanmar citizens and government can enter with foreign companies, particularly in BOO-BOT (build own operate; build operate transfer) contracts. The law is helping build the skills base of Myanmar’s people, aside from raising capital and enabling technology transfer, Oo said.

Filipino companies in Myanmar will be allowed to export goods from Myanmar as production origin.

“Myanmar already liberalized all export of agricultural commodities. We’re more liberalized compared to Vietnam. Myanmar has private companies exporting rice. The government’s role is to make the environment conducive to investors. The new law creates a level playing field (for private and public players),” said Oo.

Technologies in fruits are key areas of potential Myanmar-Philippines partnership.

“The Philippines is exporting mangoes. It is very famous for bananas and pineapple. Filipino entrepreneurs can bring in a lot of technology, most especially market. You have everything downstream side. Myanmar has all the land and the farmers, but have no access to markets. It’s a good marriage for both of us,” said Oo.

Myanmar imports dairy and palm oil, which are goods that the Philippines could also export to Myanmar.

Several Filipino companies have already invested in Myanmar since its transition from a centrally planned, military-ruled economy to a market-oriented economy.

Among these are SL Agritech Corp. and Universal Robina Corp.

In October last year, SL Agritech signed an agreement to extend technical assistance to Myanmar’s rice sector, which was followed by successful harvests of several test crops of hybrid rice this May.

In mid-2014, Universal Robina Corp. (URC) invested some $30 million to build a factory in Myanmar, primarily to serve URC’s markets in Thailand and Vietnam.

BK/SEARCA

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