BUSINESS (March 2010)
covering burma and southeast asia
Sunday, November 18, 2018

BUSINESS (March 2010)



Ghana Returns Poor Quality Burmese Rice

Locally grown rice for sale at a market near Rangoon (Photo: Reuters)
Burma’s bid to become a major rice exporter again has got off to a bad start.  Fifteen thousand bags of rice bought by Ghana have been returned because the grain was moldy and infested with weevils. The setback comes shortly after the formation of the junta-backed Myanmar [Burma] Rice Industry Association, which aims to boost annual exports to 1 million tons. According to official figures, more than half of this target was achieved halfway through the current financial year, which ends on March 31. Most of Burma’s rice exports go to poor African nations, such as Ghana, and to its neighbor Bangladesh, countries which cannot afford to pay for the higher quality produce of Thailand and Vietnam. Burma used to be the world’s biggest rice exporter but production progressively declined during decades of military government and is now far behind several other rice-exporting countries in Asia.

Regime to Sell Some Major State Assets

The Burmese regime plans to sell several major state assets, including a network of 250 state-owned gas stations and even ports and hydro-electric dams. Also on the sales list are factories, cinemas, warehouses and the country’s national airline, Myanmar Airways International. Public tendering has not been invited, however, and no information has been released about the proceeds from the sales or how non-state ownership will work.  “The great danger of privatization policies is that they become episodes of wholesale theft, of state asset stripping and expropriation by cronies connected to the state,” said Sean Turnell, the editor of Burma Economic Watch and a professor at Macquarie University in Australia.

Sweet Necessity

Faced with a shortage of small denomination banknotes, people in Burma are using sweets, cheroots, pens, candles and even tissue paper as a substitute for loose change. Some small enterprises are printing tokens for customers to use instead of scarce banknotes. Very few small-value notes are in circulation, and those that can be found are so dirty that they are regarded as a health risk. It’s believed that new small-value notes are not being printed because of the high costs involved. Burmese bank notes are issued in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 20, 45, 90, 200, 500, 1,000 and 5,000 kyat .

Yadana Gas Pipeline Shutdown Cuts Supply to Thailand

The pipeline carrying gas from Burma’s Yadana offshore field will be shut down for 16 days in March and April, reportedly for maintenance. The pipeline provides more than one-third of Thailand’s power plant needs, and the shutdown, from March 19 to April 3, will force the Thai energy industry to look for alternative sources. Thailand’s Energy Ministry assured Thai consumers that electricity shortages will not occur, although the possibility of a rise in power prices later this year cannot be ruled out.

Traders Believe Market Blaze Deliberately Set

Many traders who were put out of business by the fire that destroyed Rangoon’s Thingangyun market in February are claiming the blaze was deliberately set in order to turn the area into a multi-level bazaar. More than 600 market stalls were destroyed in the fire. Shortly after the fire, Rangoon Mayor Brig-Gen Aung Thein Linn, who is also the chairman of the Rangoon city municipal committee, confirmed the existence of a plan to turn the market into a multi-level concrete bazaar. The Rangoon municipal committee confirmed that the site would now become government property and stall owners would not be allowed to return. The committee said there are no plans to compensate the owners who lost their stalls in the fire. State-run Myanmar Insurance also said traders who had lost property in the fire were not covered by insurance. A Rangoon Fire Brigade official said the fire had been caused by an electrical fault and that the person in charge of market security was under investigation. Many traders accused the fire brigade of not doing enough to extinguish the blaze.

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