Category Archives: Business

Kirin fails to dispel doubts on military-linked Myanmar partner

Myanmar Brewery, a joint venture between Kirin and Myanma Economic Holdings, is the dominant beer company in the southeast Asian country and widely known for its flagship brand, Myanmar Beer.   © Getty Images

Reputational risk casts shadow over beer joint ventures in emerging market

Japanese beverage maker Kirin Holdings on Wednesday announced that its audit of the financial and governance structures of its business partner in Myanmar failed to produce results due to a lack of information from its counterpart.

Kirin commissioned Deloitte Tohmatsu Financial Advisory to conduct an independent assessment of its partner, Myanma Economic Holdings, in June. “Unfortunately, the assessment was inconclusive as a result of Deloitte being unable to access sufficient information required to make a definitive determination,” Kirin said in a statement.

MEHL is one of two big military-linked conglomerates in the Southeast Asian country, along with Myanmar Economic Corporation. It operates a wide range of businesses, ranging from finance, to agriculture, to mining. Kirin has two joint-venture companies with MEHL, Myanmar Brewery and Mandalay Brewery, holding a 51% stake in each.

MEHL has close ties to the military, which has been accused of massacring Muslim minority Rohingyas and destroying their villages. Critics say MEHL offers a conduit for finance that bypasses formal civilian government channels. The purpose of Kirin’s assessment was to determine where proceeds from the joint-venture businesses end up.

A U.N. fact-finding mission published a report in 2019 listing dozens of foreign companies linked to the military-related conglomerates, including Kirin, and warned that the relationship “poses a high risk of contributing to, or being linked to, violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law.”

The failure of the investigation to clear up doubts surrounding MEHL could expose Kirin to even greater reputational risk.

“[W]e remain committed to urgently finding a solution that is consistent with our approach,” the drinks maker said in the statement. “A further update on our plans will be provided by the end of April 2021,” it added. Following the announcement, a Kirin representative told Nikkei Asia that the company will seek options for a transparent system to ensure that none of the proceeds from the joint ventures are used for military purposes.

Kirin decided in November to suspend all dividend payments from Myanmar Brewery and Mandalay Brewery to shareholders in Kirin and MEHL “in view of a significant lack of visibility regarding the future business environment.” On Thursday, Kirin stated that the suspension will continue.

“It is wholly unacceptable for any proceeds from our Myanmar joint ventures to be used for military purposes, which is the fundamental condition of the joint-venture agreement,” the Japanese company said. “Kirin takes its responsibilities in Myanmar seriously, and will continue to take the necessary action to ensure its business activities in the country adhere to the highest standards,” it added.

According to a Kirin disclosure, Myanmar Brewery had 32.6 billion yen ($316 million) in sales and 12.9 billion yen in what Kirin calls normalized operating profit for the year ended December 2019. That amounted to 6.8% of the group’s total normalized operating profit.

Myanmar Brewery is the dominant beer maker in Myanmar and is widely known in the country for its flagship Myanmar Beer brand.

The Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business recently reported after meeting with the management of directors of MEHL that at present most of the company’s profit comes from Myanmar Brewery. The Yangon-based civic organization said MEHL’s financial statement for the fiscal year 2018/2019 “appears to show income from operating activities and other income totaling approximately $110 million.”

According to the U.N. mission and the civic group, MEHL has a body called the “patrons group” that oversees the board. It is headed by the Myanmar military’s commander in chief, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing. The same explanation is given in a document obtained by Nikkei Asia from a source close to MEHL.

The conglomerate’s shareholders include a number of military organs, such as “regional commands, divisions, battalions and troops,” apart from individual shareholders, who are all serving or retired military personnel, according to international human rights group Amnesty International.

Credit: asia.nikkei.com

In New Year speech, Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi announces contract to get COVID-19 vaccine from India

Myanmar’s de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi wears a face shield and mask as she attends a flag-raising ceremony for the National League for Democracy (NLD) party to mark the first day of election campaigning in Naypyidaw, Myanmar on Tuesday Photograph:( AFP )

In her New Year’s address to the nation, Myanmar’s state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi has announced that her country will get the COVID-19 vaccine from India and that a contract has been signed regarding it. 

 “The purchase contract for buying the first batch of the vaccines from India has already been signed. As soon as the authorities concerned in India have issued permission to use this vaccine, we have made arrangements for the import of these vaccines into Myanmar,”

Last year the Indian foreign secretary Harsh Shringla and Army Chief MM Naravane had jointly visited the country. The visit saw high-level assurances from India that Myanmar will be a priority when it comes to the vaccine. Shringla also handed over 3000 vials of Remdesivir as a symbol of India‘s commitment to helping Myanmar mitigate the impact of COVID-19.

Myanmar has signed MoU with the Serum Institute of India for Covishield. Over the weekend, India’s drug regulator gave approval for its use.

The state counsellor highlighted that the first priority group to get the vaccine will be medical professionals and medical personnel which will take place in February. 

“There is a lot of competition as all the countries of the world are trying to get this vaccine. However, we believe that the vaccination programme could be carried out all over the country step-by-step,” San Suu Kyi added.

“During the period when the vaccines are still not available, I wish to appeal to the people to abide by the health rules and regulations and give support to our efforts to beat COVID-19. Please be vigilant; please be patient. Please brace yourself by visioning the future. We are all in this together,” she added.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, India reaffirmed its position as the pharma capital of the world by sending medicines like HCQ, paracetamol to more than 150 countries. 

New Delhi also organised training to build capacity. In fact, for the neighbourhood, India has organized two training modules in which about 90 health experts and scientists have participated.

Credit: www.wionews.com

Myanmar airline to fly again domestically after 3-month pause

Suu Kyi talks of ‘return to normal’ with eye on international routes

A Myanmar National Airlines’ jet sits on the tarmac at Yangon International Airport: The government will allow the carrier to fly domestically to kick-start the economy. (Photo by Yuichi Nitta)

Myanmar National Airlines will on Wednesday resume domestic flights that had been halted by the coronavirus pandemic.

In early September, the government instructed the state-owned airline to suspend domestic passenger flights but will now allow a resumption to spur economic activity in rural areas of the country. International passenger flights are still banned, with the exception of occasional emergency flights.

Myanmar’s flag carrier began taking reservations on Sunday. Flights between major destinations such as Yangon, the largest city, and Naypyitaw, the capital, can be booked, although there are fewer flights than before the COVID-19 outbreak.

According to Yangon International Airport, a negative test certificate for the virus, obtained within 36 hours of departure, is required to board a plane.

The de facto head of government, State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, said in a televised speech on Friday: “Despite the spread of the disease, we have relaxed some restrictions in the areas which are not included under stay-at-home orders, and in some sectors as we are trying to return to normal quickly.”

“We are working for the resumption of domestic flights in line with health care rules and guidelines,” she said, adding that the government hopes to restart international flights as soon as possible.

According to the World Health Organization, the number of daily cases in Myanmar was a few dozen in August but that figure has risen sharply since September, reaching a record 2,260 in mid-November. The number of daily infections has hovered around 1,300 in December. In all, around 107,000 people have been infected so far.

Since September, travel by air and land has been restricted. Stay-at-home orders, which bar people from going out except for work and shopping, are still in effect in Yangon and other areas with a high number of cases.

Credit: southasianmonitor.net

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