When it comes to emerging markets, profiles rise and fall together with potential. Whether or not a country is going to make a big impact on the global stage depends on a number of factors, not least of which is natural resources. A straightforward government that is easy to do business with would also be an advantage, although cynics could tell you that, when vying for natural resources, interested parties (whether political or corporate) will turn a blind eye to corruption.
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One country that has recently burst onto the scene offering both these things is Myanmar, which has resources aplenty: petroleum, timber, tin, antimony, zinc, copper, tungsten, lead, coal, marble, limestone, precious stones, natural gas and hydropower. In 2010, the country surfaced from a long and self-imposed isolation, during which time it had seen little contact with the outside world. Its journey towards democracy is by no means complete, but Myanmar’s emergence as a new player has attracted international attention. Given its unique position as a developing country with the means and the motive to be developed, Myanmar is being wooed by suitors east, further east and west.
One such suitor is China, which has a longstanding relationship with Myanmar. This is set to continue with the opening of the China-Myanmar pipeline this May, which secures an alternative route for an alternative fuel – China has been heavily dependent on coal and its imports of natural gas are restricted by limited import channels. Some have suggested that Myanmar’s quest for reform was brought about in a bid to reduce dependence on the Chinese, and if that was the case then it seems to be working. Japan’s history with the country is long and not always positive, but the new Prime Minister’s recent announcement that Japan would waive US$3.33 billion of debt and continue to offer financial support with new loans will no doubt improve relations. Meanwhile, Barack Obama made the decision to visit Myanmar immediately after re-election as part of his so-called ‘pivot’ towards Asia, and the EU is offering substantial aid packages. Likewise, international businesses are flocking to Myanmar – it’s the 21st century equivalent of a gold rush.
But is Myanmar ready? In recent weeks, there have been reports of increasing violence between government forces and the Kachin Independence Organization. Kachin state shares a border with China, and last year Burmese government missiles went awry, landing on Chinese territory. (If nothing else, China’s mild reaction to this infraction is evidence of its keen interest in continuing its special relationship with Myanmar.) Meanwhile, the infrastructure that is necessary to successfully do business in Myanmar is not yet in place.
Of course, that’s where the cement industry comes in. The article on page 32 from Strategic Decisions Group discusses Myanmar’s potential and progress, together with some of the other, smaller ASEAN nations. We’ll keep on top of all the latest developments in the most interesting areas for your business, both here in the magazine and on our website at www.worldcement.com.