Category Archives: Business

America has to defend Myanmar from “malignant influences”: US Ambassadorial nominee

US new Ambassadorial nominee to Myanmar Thomas Laszlo Vajda told the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, US engagement with Myanmar is “essential” in order to advance the Southeast Asian country’s reforms and help defend the country against “malign influences”.

NEW DELHI: US new Ambassadorial nominee to Myanmar Thomas Laszlo Vajda has emphasised that one of his goals as envoy would be “to advance US interests and values” in the Southeast Asian country and help defend the country against “malign influences” in a veiled reference to China.

He told the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, US engagement with Myanmar is “essential” in order to advance the Southeast Asian country’s reforms and help defend the country against “malign influences”.

The hearing took place after US President Donald Trump’s nomination of Vajda as the US envoy to Myanmar in May.

“It is also critical that we support Burma’s efforts to resist malign foreign influences and challenges to its sovereignty,” he said at the hearing.

“To support Burma in this regard, the United States will need to continue helping government officials, economic reformers and civil society actors who are pushing back on unfair investment practices and deals that provide little benefit to local communities,” he added.

Though the nominee didn’t name the “malign influences” mentioned in his testimony, his reference to “unfair investment practices and deals that provide little benefit to local communities” was obvious as being to China.

An op-ed penned last month by the chargé d’affaires at the US Embassy in Yangon, George Sibley, alleged that China’s actions are part of a larger plan to undermine the sovereignty of its neighbors, including Myanmar.

In response, the Chinese Embassy accused Sibley of “outrageously smearing China” and attempting to sow discord between it and Myanmar, damaging the countries’ relations and bilateral cooperation. It said the article not only reflects the “sour grapes” mindset of the US toward China-Myanmar relations, but also a global effort by the US to shift attention away from its domestic problems and seek selfish political gain.

Credit: economictimes.indiatimes.com

PJ Wood, Thailand’s leading home goods exporter acquires Myanmar’s largest rubberwood company

For the last couple of years PJ Wood has focused on growing its manufacturing base in its Chonburi headquarters.

As it continues to expand and shifts to be a truly regional company it has acquired Myanmar’s largest rubberwood company from a leading Japanese multinational group, and aims to transform it into a sustainable manufacturing hub within the next few years together with its local Myanmar partner. 

“Other than operating efficiently our secondary purpose in entering the country is to share our knowledge and know how in creating a company that provides happiness to both customers and employees through the standards that we have internally created over the years” according to Mr. Andrew de Jesus, CEO of PJ Group. Mr. de Jesus added that the most important aspect for PJ Wood is to be a leader in ethical and sustainable standards. 

The sawmill and timber facility located in Mawlamyie, Mon State a four hour drive from Yangon will be a strategic location in the future as it is within Asia highway and within a few hours from the Thai border of Mae Sot. Currently the facility is the largest rubberwood facility in the country, and surrounded by the largest rubberwood plantations in Myanmar.

“This acquisition will help strengthen and manage our operational risks, given the changing demographic in Thailand for labor intensive industries. Our goal is to fully automate our Thai operations and slowly shift labor intensive operations to Myanmar”. This will be done in several phases, during the first phase the focus is to support the Thai market, according to Mrs. Busayakorn de Jesus, Director of PJ Wood. As a monthly visitor to Myanmar for the past eight years de Jesus believes that the country and its people have a very similar culture to Thai’s. “We understand that their will be initial hurdles in setting up operations in Myanmar, however, we believe that the long term prospects of Myanmar is very bright” 

Credit: www.bangkokpost.com

Japan: Cancel Financial Grant to Myanmar Police

Myanmar border guard police officers walk along a path in Tin May village in northern Rakhine State, Myanmar, July 14, 2017. © 2017 AP Photo

End Assistance to All Military-Controlled Entities

(Tokyo) – The Japanese government should immediately cancel plans to donate money to purchase vehicles and communications equipment for the Myanmar police force, Human Rights Watch said today. The police force, which operates under the auspices of the military, outside the control of the civilian government, has a well-documented record of serious human rights violations.

On July 2, 2020, Japan’s Foreign Ministry announced a grant of 100 million yen (US$930,000) to the Myanmar police for the purpose of purchasing vehicles and wireless equipment for “protecting dignitaries.” The Foreign Ministry claimed the donations would “strengthen the Myanmar police’s ability to carry out public security measures,” create “social stability,” and contribute to Myanmar’s “socio-economic development.”

“It’s inexplicable that the Japanese government would try to curry favor with Myanmar’s abusive security apparatus by providing financial assistance to the police,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Instead of supporting Myanmar’s police, Japan should be helping the victims of rights abuses and ethnic cleansing by working with other donor governments to hold the security forces accountable.”

Myanmar’s police acted as a pillar of repression during Myanmar’s 50 years of military rule, arbitrarily arresting dissidents and student activists, engaging in widespread torture, and creating a climate of fear in the country, Human Rights Watch said. The police remain abusive and unconstrained, in large part because the military-drafted constitution maintains military control of the police. The police operate under the authority of the Home Ministry, which is led by a minister who the constitution mandates must be a serving military officer, and operates under the de facto control of the military.

In recent years, the police have engaged in joint operations with the military, carrying out atrocities, including crimes against humanity, against ethnic Rohingya in Rakhine State in 2012, 2016, and 2017. The Myanmar police force, Border Guard Police, and security police battalions accompanied the military in so-called clearance operations that resulted in mass killings, rape, and arson. Police involvement was documented during the deadliest incidents in August and September 2017, including the massacres at Tula Toli and Gu Dar Pyin, where hundreds of Rohingya were killed.

Police took part in widespread rape, including gang rape, of Rohingya women and girls, as well as killing children while their mothers were being attacked. A woman from Zay Di Pyin, Rathedaung Township told the United Nations-backed Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar: “I don’t know how many policemen raped me, it was not my priority. The only thing I can remember is that they were trying to take my children. They dragged my son from under the bed. I was screaming to protect my children. I have not seen my son again.” In several villages, security forces abducted women and girls and took them to police and military compounds where they were gang raped.

In Rakhine State, the Myanmar police operate the majority of checkpoints, which play a central role in the severe violation of Rohingya freedom of movement in the state. Police enforce an extensive system of extortion, as well as physical harassment at checkpoints, that sustains the Rohingya’s arbitrary confinement to villages and detention camps. Human Rights Watch and other groups have documented torture by police, including the Border Guard Police, against Rohingya who have been arbitrarily detained.

Myanmar police have responded to criticism and protests with arbitrary arrests and excessive and unnecessary force. In 2017, a Reuters investigation into the massacre of 10 Rohingya in Inn Din village prompted Myanmar police to entrap and arrest 2 of the news agency’s reporters. Security police officers told Reuters they took part in raids in the village on orders from the military.

In January 2018, police shot and killed seven ethnic Rakhine protesters among a crowd that had converged at a local government building in Mrauk U after authorities shut down an event.

The police have also been implicated in excessive use of force elsewhere in the country. In April 2020, a video showed police beating a man in Mandalay for violating curfew orders during the Covid-19 pandemic. In February 2019, police fired rubber bullets and a water cannon at ethnic Karenni youth protesting the installation of a statue honoring Myanmar’s independence leader, General Aung San. At least 20 protesters were injured as they attempted to move beyond police barricades.

In response to Human Rights Watch’s inquiry of whether the Japanese government has conducted human rights due diligence to make sure that the aid won’t be used for further human rights violations, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said it has “confirmed with the Myanmar government that this aid be used and maintained for said purposes in an appropriate, effective, and exclusionary manner.” The Foreign Ministry also stated Japan’s embassy in Myanmar will monitor whether the equipment is being used appropriately.

The Japanese government should suspend all aid to the Myanmar police until systematic reforms are carried out and the police are put under civilian control. Japan should also halt aid to all military-controlled entities and ministries, including the Home Ministry.

“The Japanese government should realize that giving shiny new equipment to Myanmar’s police won’t make them less abusive,” Adams said. “By conferring undeserved legitimacy on the Myanmar police, they are signaling to Myanmar’s people that their suffering is of little concern.”

Credit: www.thestar.com.my

UN charts new territory with project to track all Myanmar’s forests

This file photo taken on July 23, 2015 shows a worker looking on amid a pile of logs at a holding area along the Yangon river in Yangon. (AFP)

A new five-year project in Myanmar will for the first time document all forests in the Southeast Asian nation – including places affected by ethnic tensions – to pinpoint deforestation risks and boost conservation, the United Nations said.

The joint Myanmar-Finland project, launched this week with funding of 8 million euros ($9 million), will monitor all types of forests in an exercise aimed at helping the country reduce emissions that fuel climate change and adapt to warming impacts.

It will also serve as a basis to develop global guidelines for tracking and protecting forests in conflict zones.

“For a lot of people, Myanmar is a country with still a lot of unknowns,” said Julian Fox, team leader for national forest monitoring at the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome, which is managing the project.

“There are huge areas of forests that have never been measured,” Fox told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Thursday.

About 70% of Myanmar’s population living in rural areas rely on its estimated 29 million hectares (72 million acres) of forests to provide for their basic needs and services.

But Myanmar also has the third-highest deforestation rate in the world – after Brazil and Indonesia – according to the FAO, partly driven by agricultural expansion and logging activities.

Although the authorities in colonial times made efforts to map parts of the country and its forests, Fox said there had never been a complete national forest inventory.

“For accurate information on forests, you need to know many things underneath the canopy – the tree species, soil, even the social-political context,” he said by phone.

The project will measure trees – with the potential to discover new species – and monitor biodiversity and carbon-storage levels, he added.

Starting in non-conflict forest zones, before expanding into less-secure areas such as the borders with China, Bangladesh and Thailand, the project will use modern tools like laser tree-measuring equipment and collect physical samples, Fox said.

It will cover Rakhine, a state from which more than 730,000 Rohingya fled to neighbouring Bangladesh after a military crackdown in 2017 that the United Nations has said was executed with genocidal intent. Myanmar denies that charge.

By engaging in sensitive talks with different ethnic groups and organisations on the ground, the FAO hopes to be able to monitor forest areas in higher-risk conflict zones.

Myanmar has more than 100 different ethnic groups, each with its own history, culture and language or dialect.

If methods developed and used here prove successful, they could be applied in other forested and remote conflict-affected areas worldwide seen as off limits up to now, Fox said.

“It is important that conflict sensitivity and human rights remain in the core of the forest monitoring work in order to ensure that it benefits all people, including ethnic minorities,” Finland’s ambassador to Myanmar, Riikka Laatu, said in a statement.

All results and data on Myanmar’s forests will be made publicly available, allowing both the government and different ethnic groups to better manage and protect forests, Fox said.

Nyi Nyi Kyaw, director-general of the forest department in Myanmar’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation, said the government was “in urgent need of better and updated data about the state of all the forests in Myanmar”.

By: THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION
Credit: www.bangkokpost.com

Myanmar: Kirin Should Cut Ties to Military

Japan Beverage Giant Pledges to Address Human Rights Concerns

Plastic crates containing Kirin brand beer at the Kirin Brewery Co. factory in Yokohama, Japan, June 2019.  © 2019 REUTERS/Issei Kato

(Tokyo) – Japan-based Kirin Holdings Company, Ltd. should end its partnership with Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd. (MEHL) because of its connections to Myanmar’s abusive armed forces, Human Rights Now, Human Rights Watch, Japan Volunteer International Center, and Shapla Neer said today. The organizations wrote to Kirin on May 22, 2020, urging the global beverage company to terminate its partnership with the military conglomerate, and the company responded on June 12.

“Kirin is putting money right into the pockets of Myanmar’s military, which is responsible for countless atrocities against the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Kirin should repair its damaged reputation by disentangling itself from the Myanmar military’s business conglomerate and its abusive armed forces.”

Kirin currently owns a majority stake in Myanmar Brewery Ltd. (MBL) and Mandalay Brewery (MDL) in partnership with the military-owned MEHL. In 2015, Kirin bought 55 percent of Myanmar Brewery Ltd, 4 percent of which it later transferred to the military-owned firm. In 2017, Kirin acquired 51 percent of Mandalay Brewery in a separate joint venture with the firm.

Myanmar’s armed forces, known as the Tatmadaw, have long been responsible for grave violations of human rights and the laws of war against the country’s ethnic minority populations. These abuses culminated in the August 2017 campaign of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, including killings, sexual violence, and forced removal, against the ethnic Rohingya population in Rakhine State.

A United Nations-backed Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar reported in 2018 that atrocities committed by Myanmar’s armed forces “rise to the level of both war crimes and crimes against humanity.” In a September 2019 report, the panel concluded that “any foreign business activity” involving Myanmar’s military and its conglomerates Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited and Myanmar Economic Corporation pose “a high risk of contributing to or being linked to, violations of human rights law and international humanitarian law. At a minimum, these foreign companies are contributing to supporting the Tatmadaw’s financial capacity.” The fact-finding mission advocated the “financial isolation” of the military to deter violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.

“It has been over six months since the Fact-Finding Mission report advised companies to financially isolate the Tatmadaw, but Kirin still remains in partnership with MEHL,” said Kazuko Ito, secretary-general of Human Rights Now. “Each day that Kirin maintains ties risks that its business operations are aiding the military commit further human rights violations.”

Kirin has additional links to Myanmar’s military. According to Amnesty International, Kirin’s subsidiary MBL made donations worth at least US$30,000 to the Tatmadaw and Rakhine State authorities between September and October 2017. This was at the height of the military’s ethnic cleansing campaign against the Rohingya.

“Kirin has failed to provide a good explanation for its subsidiary donating tens of thousands of dollars’ worth to the Myanmar military and authorities just as its troops were systematically killing, raping, and expelling Rohingya civilians and torching their villages,” said Takatoshi Hasebe, secretary-general of Japan International Volunteer Center. “Kirin should take the Fact-Finding Mission report seriously and end its relationship with these military-owned companies now.”

Kirin Group’s Human Rights Policy states the company will respect international human rights law instruments, including the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. This means Kirin should “avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts through their own activities, and address such impacts when they occur,” and “seek to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts that are directly linked to their operations, products or services by their business relationships, even if they have not contributed to those impacts.”

On June 12, Kirin responded to the groups’ letter, stating that it intends to “address the concerns raised by the international community regarding our business operations in Myanmar” and is “considering all actions and options available to us that will lead to a positive outcome for the people of Myanmar.”Kirin said it had signed the joint venture agreement on the condition that proceeds would not be used for military purposes, but also confirmed it has “formally commenced the process of exploring alternative structural options” regarding its ownership of its Myanmar businesses with help from external advisers.

Kirin also stated that “it is wholly unacceptable to Kirin that any proceeds from the joint-venture with the MEHL could be used for military purposes.” Kirin said it had hired a third-party auditor to “conduct an assessment of the materials provided by MEHL and other publicly available information” after stating “we have formally and repeatedly requested details of MEHL’s financial and governance structures to ascertain whether proceeds from joint-ventures with MEHL may have been used for military purposes.”

Kirin should urgently act to end its business partnership with the MEHL conglomerate and prevent its subsidiaries from making any further partnerships or donations to the Myanmar military, the organizations said.

“Kirin should demonstrate its commitment to its own Human Rights Policy by taking action to end its engagement with Myanmar’s military-controlled companies,” said Toyoaki Komatsu, secretary-general of Shaplaneer. “Such responsible action will show the country’s persecuted minority groups such as the Rohingya that demands for justice and accountability can bring results.”

Credit: www.hrw.org

Afghanistan and Myanmar drown in China’s loans; Afghanistan rejects loan

China’s embarrassment Photograph:( AFP )

Coronavirus may not have been the only virus that China is responsible for. Carried through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China has successfully spread the virus of debt too.

Touted as the greatest plan in modern history to revive global trade, the BRI has been the biggest vehicle for China’s chequebook diplomacy.

The loans have crippled many poor economies and now, some of them are waking up to this fact — for instance Afghanista and Myanmar.. 

China claims to have signed agreements with 138 countries. Estimates say the BRI projects will cost over a trillion dollars.

China is running this lending operation for access and power.

While many countries are already drowning in Chinese debt without realizing it, Afghanistan and Myanmar have taken the first step by rejecting Chinese loans.

China’s renewed push in Afghanistan is a curious case. At first, China wanted nothing to do with this country as ridden by violence, it made no business sense.

However, Beijing sensed an opportunity as soon as Trump said he wanted to exit Afghanistan. Ever since, China has been trying to take CPEC into Afghanistan.

But Kabul sees the pitfalls. Afghanistan’s national debt stand at over 1.3 billion dollars, and China wants to give more loans to Kabul. President Ashraf Ghani has declined the loan.

In Myanmar, the auditor general has cautioned the government against Chinese loans.

Myanmar is already busy paying back loans taken during decades of misgovernance under the military junta. But, Myanmar is firmly in China’s grip. So, saying no to chinese loans won’t be easy…

China is Myanmar’s largest lender, and its biggest trading partner.

Myanmar’s current national debt stands at 10 billion dollars — 40 percent of this debt is already owed to China.

From 1988 to 2010, China gave out massive loans to Myanmar. These loans have been coming due since 2018, and Myanmar is paying back around 500 million dollars per year, including principal and four percent interest rate.

This is a classic example of China’s preadatory lending.

The auditor general has pointed out that loans from China come at higher interest rates compared to loans from financial institutions like the world bank or the IMF. He said, “I would like to remind government ministries to be more restrained in using Chinese loans.”

However, will the government listen?

In January, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi agreed to speed up projects under the BRI. This resulted in 33 agreements, from mega power projects to railways.

Myanmar has already suffered once, it must not repeat the mistake again.

China’s gameplan

Chinese financial institutions lend money for BRI projects. Construction contracts are awarded to mostly Chinese firms.

A Chinese company receives much of the proceeds of the loan and then projects tend to suffer delays or cancellations. There are corruption concerns, and the host country ends up with a massive pile of debt.

Edited By:  Palki Sharma

Credit: www.wionews.com

Dallas tea company imports rare leaves from woman-owned estate in Myanmar

Rakkasan Tea partners with the Mogok Tea estate to promote economic development within a country still engaged in civil conflict.

Rakkasan Tea Co. in Deep Ellum, run by two combat veterans, imports premium loose-leaf tea from post-conflict countries like Vietnam, Laos and Rwanda with a mission of promoting peace and economic development.

But they’ve recently branched out to Myanmar, also known as Burma, which is still, technically, in a state of conflict. An ongoing civil war between ethnic groups persists even after an oppressive military dictatorship was dissolved in 2011.

Myanmar is in the cradle of tea country, in Southeast Asia bordering China. But because it’s been isolated from the Western world, so have its teas, and it’s extremely rare to find Burmese tea in the U.S.

Brandon Friedman, who runs Rakkasan Tea with co-founder and former fellow soldier Terrence “TK” Kamauf, says sourcing tea from Myanmar presented a challenge. “There are moral questions,” he says of doing business in a country battling corruption. “It’s something I’ve thought long and hard about.”

But it still fits their mission, he says. “The country is unquestionably in a better place than it was. And we are doing our part to encourage that and prod it along, to allow the Burmese people to connect with the wider world.”

Rakkasan Tea Co. in Dallas has imported rare teas from Myanmar.(Rakkasan Tea Company)

Friedman recently connected with Phyu Thwe, who owns the Mogok Tea estate, a 100-acre oasis of ancient tea trees and newly planted trees untouched by the legacy of destructive gem mining in Myanmar.

Thwe grew up in the small village of Mogok but now lives in London and works as an accountant. The 35-year-old wanted to see the world when she left home at 20, but she quickly became disillusioned with the Western lifestyle and searched for a project with more purpose.

She went back to her childhood, where she remembered walking from village to village with her family, stopping to rest under a tea tree on her way back from the forest.

“This is where I need to begin,” she says. “I kind of realized, if I drop dead tomorrow, everything I study or do, it doesn’t mean anything. But if I create some sort of vehicle that creates something that I can leave behind, it will live on.”

So in 2018, instead of studying to become a tax adviser, Thwe chose to study tea at the UK Tea Academy so that she could learn to farm her family’s land and create a business that would provide economic stability to her home village as well as protect and preserve the environment.

Phyu Thwe is the founder of Mogok Tea in Myanmar.(Mogok Tea)

Because tea is not really valued within Myanmar, the ancient tea trees on her family’s land have been virtually untouched. Thwe’s family gave her the land and even told her she was crazy to farm tea, she says. But she’s transformed it into not only a high-quality premium tea operation but also a way to transition the local economy away from the practice of mining and create a model of ethical labor practices and environmental sustainability.

When Thwe was a child, she says, there were green hills everywhere. “Now when I go, there are not many hills left. Everything has been mined. The scenery is gone,” she says.

She started farming 10 acres and employs 12 people whom she pays for the full year, not just during harvest. She has trained them about employee rights, and because there is no health care coverage in Myanmar unless you work for the government, she pays her employees’ doctor bills when they get sick.

“I myself had symptoms of depression, but since this project started, I have felt like I’m no longer depressed,” Thwe says. “Every day I’m working and send money from here [London] to pay them. It’s like if you have a child, but this is not a child, this is for 12 families. That changes a lot over there.”

Thwe and her team are also gentle with the land, as well as the tea leaves. The leaves are hand-picked, and only a little at a time as to not deplete the plant. “Our yield is like a fraction of what others are picking because we let it grow naturally,” she says.

The plants on her property have also been untouched by fertilizer over the years. “So our tea has been grown semiwild and of organic nature,” Thwe says.

Tea leaves are hand-picked at the Mogok Tea estate in Myanmar.(Sai Nun Khay)

Rakkasan Tea Co. has chosen green and black teas from Mogok to add to its lineup. The black tea, which is rare even in Myanmar, is crafted with a “spider leg” twist and has a natural sweetness and fruitiness. The green tea has a toastiness with notes of asparagus.

The tea also has, so far, been unaffected by the coronavirus pandemic due to its rural origins. “The disease hasn’t really spread to these places, so they have more mobility,” Friedman says.

And as we deal with the uncertainty of the pandemic and other stressful current events, tea can be a much-needed salve, whether it’s helping to promote peace abroad or just for taking a calming tea break at home.

The Mandalay Black and Mandalay Green teas are $19.99 each (yields 15-20 cups) at rakkasantea.com.

By: Erin Booke
Credit: www.dallasnews.com

Myanmar Pulls Swiss Firm to Scrutinize China’s BRI Project

The towns of Muse, Myanmar (foreground) and Ruili, China (background), as seen from Muse in Shan State. / Zaw Zaw / The Irrawaddy

YANGON—The Myanmar government says it is receiving help from a Swiss company to scrutinize a China-backed study on Beijing’s ambitious railway project to connect Mandalay with Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province in southwestern China.

At a press conference in Naypyitaw on Wednesday, Myanma Railways Managing Director U Ba Myint said the Swiss company has already stepped in as a third party to review the feasibility study for the Muse-Mandalay Electric Railway, submitted by China Railway Eryuan Engineering Group (CREEG).

The managing director did not disclose the name of the Swiss company, but said the company will cover all their own expenses for the review.

The US$8.9 billion Muse-Mandalay Railway project is part of the backbone of the China Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC), which is itself part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Beijing’s grand Asia-Pacific infrastructure plan. The Muse-Mandalay Railway is expected to be a key part of the economic corridor and connect with the Chinese rail network at the Chinese border town of Ruili in Yunnan Province.

The railway an initial part of the strategic China-Myanmar High Speed Railway, which aims to connect Kyaukphyu in western Myanmar’s Rakhine State with Kunming via Muse, in Shan State.

In 2011, Beijing and Naypyitaw first signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to build a railway from Ruili to Kyaukphyu via Muse. The entire rail line was to run 810 km. However, the government of then-president U Thein Sein suspended the project due to strong local objections and concerns about unfair terms, including interest rates and revenue sharing as well as security. The agreement expired in 2014.

In 2018, CREEG (formerly China Railway Group Ltd.) and Myanma Railway signed an MOU to begin the feasibility study. CREEG covered the cost of the study, which was then submitted to the Myanmar government in April last year during Beijing’s second BRI forum. The study included alignment measurements for the route, the number of stations, water samples, and earth, gravel and soil tests.

“The [Swiss] company will check the details of the feasibility study, including railway routes, alignments and specifications. They will also analyze whether the cost [as calculated by the Chinese side] makes sense,” U Ba Myint said. “They will also scrutinize whether there is anything bad for the Myanmar side.”

U Ba Myint added that “if the company finds that it will be beneficial for us, we will pass it on to the related committees to make the final decision. After all the related stakeholders [from the Myanmar government] have reviewed it and advised us that the project should move forward—then we will move forward with the project.”

“We have no plan to implement it at all if the project would be bad for our country,” he said.

Public concern has increased recently regarding the influx of Chinese immigrants, land confiscations and the loss of livelihoods and resources due to the project. In response, U Ba Myint said, “Let me assure you this: we will think carefully in order to avoid causing any harm to the country.”

According to Myanma railways, Myanmar experts already sent back their feedback on the feasibility study to CREEG. During Chinese President Xi Jinping’s trip to Myanmar early this year, the sides exchanged letters about the Muse-Mandalay Railway feasibility study.

Muse sits on Myanmar’s border with Yunnan and is the largest trade portal between the two nations. With Mandalay as central Myanmar’s commercial center, the railway could become a lifeline for China-Myanmar trade.

The 431 km-long railway is designed to reach speeds of 160 km per hour, meaning it will take only three hours to get from Mandalay to Muse. Currently, Mandalay is connected to Muse via Lashio by a national highway. The drive normally takes more than eight hours.

Critics have raised concerns that the project could burden Myanmar with unsustainable debts and provoke more armed conflict in the project area as the railway will pass through armed conflict zones in northern Shan State.

The majority of local people along the railway have said they were not fully consulted for the project’s environmental impact assessment. Locals said they had received no specific information about the project, though they are increasingly fearful about forced displacement, farmland confiscations, losing water resources and the social impacts of the planned project.

By: NAN LWIN
Credit: www.irrawaddy.com

Myanmar growth to slow in 2020 but rebound next year, World Bank says

An overview of downtown Yangon from Sule. Photo: Aung Htay Hlaing/The Myanmar Times

Although economic growth for Myanmar is forecast to slow to 1.5 percent in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this could rebound to 6pc by 2021, according to the World Bank’s Global Economic Prospects 2020 report released on June 8. The economy grew 6.3pc in 2019.

The slowdown is a result of domestic shutdowns, reduced tourism, as well as disrupted trade and manufacturing. However, the economy is expected to regain momentum next year if the global pandemic is brought under control and global trade resumes.

But the COVID-19 pandemic also brings new challenges to Myanmar, as serious risks remain which could delay the country’s recovery next year.

For example, the pandemic will likely further slow potential growth in the region by weakening investment and the supply chains that have contributed to Myanmar growth over the last decade. Economic activity in the rest of Asia is forecast to contract by 1.2pc in 2020 before rebounding in 2021. The regional outlook will significantly deteriorate if global trade tensions re-escalate.

Based on a survey by the Asia Foundation, half the enterprises surveyed believed business survival represented a moderate or high risk, with garments and textiles, hotel and accommodations being at particularly high risk.

Meanwhile, 92pc of enterprises reported lower sales due to COVID – 19 with 74pc facing sharp declines of more than half of normal sales. Businesses also laid off on average 16pc of their employees due to COVID – 19.

“Our first order of business is to address the global health and economic emergency. Beyond that, the global community must unite to find ways to rebuild as robust a recovery as possible to prevent more people from falling into poverty and unemployment.” World Bank Group Vice President for Equitable Growth, Finance and Institutions, Ceyla Pazarbasioglu, said.

Currently, the Myanmar government is focusing on improving trade and investment with flexible policies, providing financial stimulus to businesses and promoting digital platforms under its COVID – 19 Economic Relief Plan (CERP).

It is also trying to ensure the flow of essential goods such as food, commodities, medicines and medical supplies in the short-term, while raising investment promotion efforts and strengthening cooperation with development partners for more long term stability, Investment and Foreign Economic Relations’ Minister U Thaung Tun said last week.

Credit: www.mmtimes.com

Myanmar police make Asia’s biggest drug bust in decades, seizing 200 million meth tablets

Barrels of chemicals from the seizure are seen in this handout photograph from the Myanmar government.

Hong Kong (CNN)Myanmar police have made Asia’s biggest drug bust in decades, seizing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of contraband including “unprecedented”amounts of methylfentanyl, a chemical used to make a dangerously potent synthetic opioid.

The seizures announced Monday were conducted during a three-month operation that centered around Lwe Kham village in Kutkhai Township in Myanmar’s northeast Shan state. Thirty-three suspects were arrested.

Jeremy Douglas, the regional coordinator for the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said the scale of the seizure was “truly off-the-charts.

“Police seized nearly 200 million methamphetamine tablets, more than 500 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine,and 35.5 metric tons and 163,000 thousand liters of precursor chemicals used to manufacture illicit drugs,Myanmar authorities and the UNODC said in a joint statement.

They also seized nearly 3,750 liters (990 gallons) of liquid methylfentanyl, which is used to make a powerful synthetic opioid like fentanyl. It is believed to be the first time authorities have discovered such a massive amount of fentanyl or one of its analogues in Southeast Asia.

The region has so far been spared an opioid crisis like that in the United States, but experts have warned that drug producers in Asia may eventually chose to supply those who use opiate drugs like heroin with synthetic opioids, which are made to mimic the chemical structure of poppy-based drugs.

Theirpotency means it is easier to overdose on synthetic opiods, especially if drug users do not know what they’re consuming. A trio of overdoses in Bangkok in September were believed to be the first indications that fentanyl had shown up in the Thai capital’s heroin supply. One of the users who witnessed the overdose told CNN the group thought they were taking heroin, not fentanyl.

Douglas said that the amount of methylfentanyl precursor seized could have been used to produce a batch of synthetic opioids large enough to replace the region’s heroin production for a year.”This may be the moment we have feared — synthetic opioids are in the region in a big way,” he said.

A meth boom

Asia’s methamphetamine boom is one of the world’s biggest drug crises. It’s being fueled by major criminal syndicates who in recent years moved away from plant-based drugs like heroin — which need space and are dependent on weather — tocheaper and easy-to-make synthetics like methamphetamine.

They’ve also been able to operate with relatively little interference from police by moving production into the Golden Triangle, the border area where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet. The Golden Triangle was for years the world’s biggest heroin-producing region, and today it is still notorious for its lawlessness — especially on the Myanmar side, which is in some parts governed by local militias and warlords.

The result has been an unprecedented boom in the synthetic drug trade. The methamphetamine market in East and Southeast Asia alone is worth as much as $61.4 billion a year, the UNODC said in a report released Friday.The market is so strong that even the novel coronavirus outbreak appears to have done little to impact synthetic drug production and trade.

“While the world has shifted its attention to the COVID-19 pandemic, all indications are that production and trafficking of synthetic drugs and chemicals continue at record levels in the region,” Douglas said.

Douglas said the operation provided further proof of the increasing size, scale and sophistication of Asia’s drug cartels.

“It is clear that a network of production facilities like those found would not be possible without the involvement and financial backing of serious transnational organized criminal groups,” Douglas said in the joint statement.The statement also said that authorities uncovered evidence that some militias operating in the lawless areas of northern Myanmar were involved in the trade, though it did not say what that evidence was. Analysts and law enforcement agencies have long accused the armed groups in northern Myanmar of fueling the region’s drug trade.

The statement Monday did not say exactly how much the haul was worth, but it’s likely a significant sum. Authorities in Australia said their seizure of 1.596 metric tons of meth in December was worth almost $820 million.Burmese authorities seized about 18 tons of meth, though most of it was in cheaper pill form, and drugs usually fetch a higher price in Australia then they do in Southeast Asia.

Credit: edition.cnn.com