Myanmar, once an important producer and exporter of crude petroleum, lead, silver, and zinc in Asia during the 1950’s, produced only modest amounts of metallic minerals, such as chromium, copper, gold, lead, manganese, silver, tin, tungsten, and zinc; industrial minerals, such as barite, clays, dolomite, feldspar, gypsum, limestone, precious stones, and salt; and mineral fuels, such as coal, natural gas, and crude petroleum. Most of the production was for its own consumption. Myanmar, with only 57 % of its land geologically mapped, has potential for a wide variety of uncharted minerals. These minerals include antimony, chromium, copper, diamond, gems, gold, lead, manganese, natural gas, nickel, crude petroleum, platinum-group metals, silver, and zinc.
Wide-ranging reforms, backed up by planned legislative changes and a drive to improve practices, look set to steer Myanmar’s mining sector into the 21st century.
However, the early stage of development means it still lacks the modern surveying techniques needed to move the mining industry forward. Foreign investors and observers have had to make do with understated official figures on mineral resource production and exports, alongside estimations for neighbouring imports.
Myanmar’s efforts to clean up the industry’s image include plans to join the Extractives Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), a global group made up of governments, businesses and other representatives, which aims to improve accountable management of revenues from natural resources
Myanmar is also poised to introduce a new mining law this year, which would overhaul the 20-year-old legislation currently in place. Myanmar’s 1994 mining law is set for a major overhaul that could transform as much as 70% of current legislation The law is expected to pave the way for new international partners to enter the market and upgrade its practices. For many years, due to sanctions imposed by the US, EU and other Western countries, China has
been the primary investor and buyer in the minerals sector.
This has left Myanmar little in the way of flexibility, with no room to exert leverage across the sector. Although exploration activities will have many challenges, the mining industry has the potential to drive economic growth, while fostering foreign investment.
Both foreign and local firms are able to invest in the sector under the amended law, with maximum different time limits for licenses extended depending on the scale of the site. The mining sector will be the main economic activity when the newly amended law is active. The amended law is seen as a key piece of legal framework that could usher in sizable new investment in Myanmar’s natural resources sector, but has been slow to materialise as other laws like the Foreign Investment Law have made their way through Parliament relatively quickly.
The Ministry of Mines has been preparing to amend the 1994 mining law since 2012, initially targeting an early 2013 introduction. The delays come despite international efforts to assist the Ministry of Mines. Mineral-rich Australia has been particularly active. In May 2013 a 17- member delegation from the ministry, including Minister U MyintAung, took a two week tour hosted by AusAID to meet with Australian government officials and view mining operations in New South Wales and Queensland. Department of Mining Director General, U Win Htein said current foreign investment in the sector is primarily from ASEAN members.
Foreign firms from countries including the US, the UK and Australia have visited the mining ministry expressing interest in long-term investment, but experts said the current regulatory regime under the 1994 law made it difficult for foreign firms to enter the sector. What adds to uncertainty is the need to approach the ministry for permission when moving from one stage in the mining process to the next, such as from exploration into the production phase. Yet another area of concern for foreign investors is the rule banning exports of ore, coal and gold, a protectionist measure meant to ensure that processing is done in-country.
The main aims with the amendments are to generate more tax income and provide a process to legalise small-scale and illegal miners.