President Obama this morning pledge that the US will lift all remaining sanction s against Myanmar after meeting Daw Aung San Suu Kyi at the Oval Office.
Currently the last remaining Myanmar tycoons on the SDN List are
- Steven Law of the Asia World Group
- U Zaw Zaw of the Max Myanmar Group
- U Tay Za of the Htoo Group
- U Khin Shwe of the Zaykabar Group
The other remaining sanctions is on the military owned enterprises such as Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings, Myanmar Economic Corporation, Myawaddy Bank Ltd and Myanmar Ruby Enterprise Co Ltd.
Our list above is not exhaustive.
The lifting of US on all remaining sanctions on Myanmar will have a great impact on the ease of doing business in Myanmar for foreign investors as currently it is still difficult for companies to remit USD from overseas to their bank account in Myanmar due to the US sanctions. Most foreign banks do not bother to check if the parties they are remitting to is on the US SDN List – they just automatically stop the transaction if their control system detect the word “Myanmar” or “Burma” anywhere in the remittance instruction as the risk of getting it wrong is too big versus the profit they make from the transaction. The record fine of USD 8.9 billion paid by BNP Paribas for violating the US sanctions on Sudan, Cuba and Iran send shudders in the bank’s board room – the direction given to compliance department of banks now is to be safe than rather than be sorry. Just do not handle any remittances in USD to countries whereby US still have sanctions.
It is also difficult for US companies who want to venture into Myanmar to find joint venture partners as most of the tycoons such as Steven Law, Zaw Zaw or Tay Za who are heavy weights in Myanmar are on the US sanction list. For Myanmar to improve its infrastructure – foreign multinationals need to JV with these tycoons in order to be able to find partners with the knowledge, resource and experience to do get job done. The due diligence involve in doing any JV in Myanmar is harrowing and will turn off most listed companies from pursuing joint venture opportunities in Myanmar as the prospect of indirectly becoming a business partner of an individual who is on the US SDN list is very high given the very opaque corporate structure of many companies in Myanmar. Most big MNCs that want to look for Myanmar JV partner end up with a small pool of over-priced and over-hyped conglomerates such as Yoma Strategic Holding/ FMI Group, Loi Hein Group, Citimart Group, etc that are not on the US SDN List.
As an emerging market with poor infrastructure the risk of operating in Myanmar is high. This risk is made even higher for foreign companies with major assets in the US as there is a very high risk of violating US sanctions unknowingly when they go into a JV with a Myanmar citizen or company in– as many tycoons operate their business via proxies. As a result only small and nimble companies that are preferably private owned and have owners that have high appetite for risk can afford to invest in Myanmar.
By lifting all remaining sanctions on Myanmar – the US will create a conducive investment climate for US and major Western listed companies to invest in Myanmar. This will make the new government‘s job easier when attracting foreign investment. Remember Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s government need to show at the end of her 5 year term that the life of the Myanmar people has been improved during her reign i.e. if the NLD want to be re-elected as the next government with an overpowering majority in parliament. Lifting all remaining sanctions will certainly help to make that a more likely outcome.
In the weeks ahead as the OFAC SDN List is updated – we will monitor, review and inform you of the changes that is going on with foreign investment entering Myanmar. So stay tune.
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NB: Take note that Myanmar has been taken off the US Sanction List by President Obama’s Executive Order signed on 7th October 2016. See US terminated remaining sanctions against Myanmar on 7 Oct 2016.