British launch new Chamber of Commerce

The British Chamber of Commerce Myanmar launched on July 16 about a month after receiving government approval, becoming the latest business group to formally open its doors in Myanmar.

The organisation aims to provide a network for the business community to represent business interests, and will work with United Kingdom Trade and Investment to support market entrants and match business partners, said Stephanie Ashmore, British Chamber of Commerce executive director.

There are 86 founding members, including well-known sponsors such as resource firm BG, Standard Chartered bank, conglomerate Jardines and insurance provider Prudential.

While there are some British firms interested in manufacturing locally, much of the island’s economy is now service-driven, said Lisa Weedon, a Myanmar-based director at UK Trade and Investment. “A lot of UK exports overseas are actually services,” she said. “That’s why there are many British lawyers, British consultants, British accountants, all here.”

Between 30 and 40 British companies have a presence in Myanmar, including firms such as Unilever, Jaguar-LandRover, and Prudential, while others operate from regional offices such as Rolls-Royce, said Ms Weedon.

Investor interest in the country has been picking up, she added.

“In the 18 months since I’ve been here [the number of businesses] certainly quadrupled,” she said.

Directorate of Investment and Company Administration figures at the end of June place the UK as the fifth-largest source of approved foreign investment in Myanmar, comprising some 70 projects worth about 6.77 percent of the total. The next highest European nation is France at ninth spot with three projects comprising about 1.02pc of total foreign direct investment.

Tony Picon, president of the British Chamber of Commerce, said the timing is right for the organisation to finally launch.

“The country for the last number of years has opened up to the economic reform process. We’ve seen a lot of talk, a lot of investors come into town, and I think we’re only now starting to see real action,” he said.

While this is the first British Chamber of Commerce in Myanmar, the British presence the country dates back centuries.

Myanmar was formerly part of the British Empire, with King Thibaw abdicating in 1885 after a string of defeats during the Third Anglo-Burmese War. The country later gained its independence on January 4, 1948.

Asked what impact the colonial period has on Britain doing business in Myanmar today, UK ambassador to Myanmar Andrew Patrick said he has not seen it as a factor affecting business relations.

“I don’t think it’s been a big factor on our political work here and I haven’t come across it as a big factor in terms of doing business here,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a great advantage here or a great disadvantage.”

Mr Picon said that some British companies that had been doing business in the country in the mid-20th century had some connections, but added firms from other countries were also active in Myanmar at the time and had similar connections.


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