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[ASIAN-BUSINESS] Myanmar (Burma)...

Subject: [ASIAN-BUSINESS] Myanmar (Burma)...& Asean (fwd)

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There have been requests by some readers to dig more into Myanmar and 
about the companies doing business there.
Some major U.S. & European companies have reversed their investment
decisions recently due to the "Illegitimate regime in power".
Some like Unocal Corp continues to be involved in the lucrative
gas business being pipelined to Thailand.

We reproduce here a Press briefing by the Asean Secretary General
this week while he was in Yangon (Rangoon) for an official visit.
Many things become clearer.
If you are not into it, pls use Delete key on your keyboard.

Subject:  Press Briefing by ASEAN Secretary General 

        Yangon -   Nov 9.  Press briefing by ASEAN Secretary
General Mr. Ajit Singh was held  at Ramada Hotel, Yangon

Mr. Dato Ajit Singh s opening address:

        Good afternoon distinguished ladies and gentlemen, of the
Press, as has been announced just now I have just completed a
week-long visit to Myanmar  at the invitation of the foreign minister.
The purpose of my visit was to look into the preparations Myanmar
is making for entry into ASEAN and what kind of assistance the
Secretariat can give or the other members of the ASEAN can give
so as to have a smooth transition of Myanmar into ASEAN. So
during the course of my visit here I have had the privilege of meeting
the leaders of Myanmar and have had discussions with them on the
preparations that Myanmar is making, and I  might say that I have
had the very useful exchange of views with them. I  know now how
much prepared Myanmar is and what kind of assistance she needs.
In addition to that I also had the opportunity to visit upcountry, I
have to Bagan, Taungyi, Inlay Lake, I have visited some industrial
sites, I have visited the container port in Thilawa. I saw the
Nga-Mo-Yeik earth dam. I visited the Hlaing Thar Yar Industrial
Estate. This has been a very interesting visits.. has given me very
good idea of the kind of progress that have been made here in this
country. So like all good things must come to an end I will be taking
off in a little while. So I think with that brief introduction I d rather
answer your questions. Thank you.

Q.      Thomas Mintier of CNN

        There have been indications in the last few weeks there is
some differing opinions about the timing of admission of Myanmar
into ASEAN. You will be going back and making reports prior to
the summit in Jakarta on 30th. What recommendations might you
take back about the timing and all those comments we have been
hearing about from some where like Singapore that the timing needs
to be reconsidered?

A.      The question of admission of Myanmar, I think we will have
to look at together with Cambodia and Laos because all the three
have applied to join ASEAN in July next year. So, between now
and July, we still have time and that is why I have come home.
Earlier, two years ago I visited Cambodia, Myanmar and we
discussed the kind of assistance they need. So, I have been
undertaking a similar visit now and we have looked at....I have been
more concerned about the technical aspects of preparations
especially the entry of Myanmar into ASEAN            Myanmar will
be ready to join AFTA when she joins.

        So, between now and July, I think we have  still a lot of  time.
For your information, Vietnam applied to join ASEAN in October
1994 and she was admitted in July 1995. And negotiations for her
entry into ASEAN went right up to July just before she entered. So,
it is a continuing process and we cannot say right now whether
Myanmar is ready or not because there are still a lot of
preparations that have to be made. So, I cannot give you definite
time or date or a specific answer to that question but we are doing
all we can to assist Myanmar to join ASEAN as soon as possible.

Q.      Stephen S Brookes of Asia Times

        What are the major hurdles you see right now to Myanmar s
entry to ASEAN?

A.      As far as the readiness of Myanmar is concerned we are very
pleasantly surprised to find that Myanmar is fairly advanced in the
preparations to join ASEAN. We have the criteria and conditions
for joining ASEAN we have to look at those and if you judge
Myanmar by those conditions you would see that they are almost
ready like for instance, one part of the condition is that you must
subscribe to all the ASEAN political documents including the
Bangkok declaration of 1967, the zone of peace, freedom and
Neutrality, the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation which Myanmar
has already signed before she became an observer, the Nuclear
Weapons Free Zone, all the others agreements that ASEAN
accepts. I think that Myanmar has no difficulty in acceding to these
agreements. Then there are also financial obligations for the
membership, sharing equally in the cost of running the Secretariat,
subscribing to the various funds that ASEAN has. So even on the
financial aspect I think they have no problems. There are a few
other conditions like having embassies in all the ASEAN countries
which they have even long before they have applied in things like

        On the  AFTA side, we are also pleasantly surprised to see
how far advanced Myanmar really is because they have all the
information now on computer. The Central Statistical Office is
computerised in information, compilation and collection of data is
very advanced. And whatever information is needed can be easily
obtained. So, we have no difficulty in getting access to information.
Also the question of the laws, trade laws, investment laws, company
laws all that have been made available to us.

        So, the question of transparency in getting access to the
information that we want is not a problem either. There are other
conditions as far as joining AFTA is concerned number one, the
granting of the MFN status to the other ASEAN countries. And
here again, Myanmar has been a member  of the WTO and she has
been granting MFN to other countries. So that problem does not
rise either. The question of giving national treatment to ASEAN
products on a reciprocal basis. Here again there does not seem to
be a problem because Myanmar is prepared to undertake all the
obligations and responsibilities that implies. So, they gave us at our
request the whole tariff  code of Myanmar. During the last few days
we have been looking into it and our preliminary examination of the
tariff code of her tariff lines indicate to us. For instance, Myanmar
has over 5,326 tariff lines and out of these over 3,000 and that is
about 30 per cent have tariff rates of 0 to 5 per cent. And that is
very low tariff rate. The objective of the Asean Free  Trade Area is
to bring our tariffs down to 0 to 5 per cent by the year 2003, and
2006 in the case of Vietnam. So, here again, their tariffs are very
low. Of course, we will have to look at the information that we have
in greater detail because tariff lines are in the agriculture sector
because, quite understandably being an agricultural country there is
a heavy emphasis on those products. Therefore we will continue to
discuss with Myanmar on the information on tariff and based on
these factors I think that Myanmar should have no difficulty in
acceding to the ASEAN Free Trade area when she joins.

Q.      Compared to Cambodia and Laos. (Inaudible)

A.      You see, Myanmar seems to have a very distinct advantage
over Cambodia and Laos. Because  number one, Myanmar is a
member of the WTO whereas Cambodia and Laos and even for
Vietnam are not. So, the question of MFN does not arise that I told
you. There is no language problem in this country. Everywhere I
went I have been speaking English, briefings have been given to me
in English. They speak English very well. All the officials are very
competent. All their laws and rules and regulations are English
whereas in the case of Cambodia and Laos they have to be
translated from their language --- Khmer language or the Lao
language into English and all our ASEAN documents that I have
spoken to you about, the Bangkok Declaration, the Treaty of Amity
and Cooperation, all the other documents have to be  translated
from English into their native language to enable their officials to
understand what those agreements are about before they can even
undertake to subscribe to them. So, you see they have a difficult job
there. But not insurmountable as it was the case of Vietnam.
Vietnam had to go through that translation process, they translated
all the ASEAN documents into Vietnamese language and when they
were preparing the AFTA list they had to translate everything from
Vietnam into English. And the translation process itself can take
about three or four months.

        So, the state of the economy and what we have seen gives
the impression that Myanmar is in a much better position I mean
better prepared, let s say, and has distinct advantages over
Cambodia and Laos.

Q.      U Hla Htwe of  Nihon Keizai Shimbun

        Did you notice any  shift in the mood of some ASEAN
leaders as regards Myanmar s possible entry into ASEAN next

A.      Well I know that the purpose of the question, what I can tell
you is that the leaders are going to meet at the end of this month and
it is entirely up to them whether they want to discuss this question or
not. But as far as ASEAN is concerned Myanmar is an observer, as
has been admitted as an observer and she has all the rights,
obligations and duties so an observer she can attend all the ASEAN
meetings, all the committee meetings and I have already undertaken
to give assistance. I have told in my discussions with the leadership
that I will be happy to receive Myanmar officials to be seconded to
the ASEAN Secretariat for a brief period so that they can
familiarise themselves with what ASEAN is doing. We are also
prepared to give assistance in the form of enabling her officers to
visit the other ASEAN countries to see how they handle ASEAN
matters and to send my officials here for more intensive preparations
are going  ahead. There is no, what can be called a stop in this; it
will proceed.

Q.      Mr. Simon Long of the Economist

        As you were saying that there is plenty of time up to next July
that it is taking the Vietnam s precedence. Isn t there has to be at
some point of firm decision that all parties are working towards
membership being achieved by next July. So there must be some
sort of deadline in your own mind of when that decision has to be
taken? I mean when that decision has to be taken?

A.      July next year.

Q.      You really think you can go on talking right up to then?

A.      Yes, we ve done that in the case of Vietnam.

Q.      But Vietnam surely was after the October application, very
clear everybody had agreed they hoped Vietnam would come in. Is
the case same with Myanmar?

A.      As I said you have to look at Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos
together. They have applied for membership and the application is
already going through the internal process of ASEAN. It is being
discussed as we normally do, and the decision will be reached by

Q.      (Mr. Steven Brookes of the Asia Times)

        It has been suggested that one reason to delay Myanmar s
entry into ASEAN will be not on the basis of Myanmar s readiness
to enter but rather ASEAN would need more time to observe Laos
and Cambodia because of they re less economically ready to join
AFTA for example, is that going to be a consideration in the
discussion over there?

A.      Oh, I just don t follow that logic at all. Laos and Cambodia
also will require a lot of assistance. We already are giving them
assistance, as I said the officials have been sent to the Secretariat on
attachment and they have attending meetings. And the same is being
extended to Myanmar, so we are not treating them differently. We
are treating Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia the same.

Q.      Mr. S. Moriyama of Fuji TV

        I understand that economically Myanmar has prepared well,
but how about the political situation, is it well prepared for joining

A.      Well, politically, as I told you we have the various agreements
that a new member must subscribe to, and Myanmar, I ve been told
by the leadership that they have no problem in acceding to all the
documents. So that s as far as conditions goes.

Q.      Shinichi Isobe of NHK

        You referred to the one of the conditions that Myanmar has
already had the WTO membership. Is it necessary for the Myanmar
Government to have a new Constitution before they join the

A.      I must make it clear that as far as ASEAN is concerned we
do not interfere in the internal affairs of the country concerned. That
is a cardinal principal we have followed right from the beginning. We
have not questioned any country on its internal political situation.

Q.      Mr. Simon Long of the Economist

        I have another question on tariff. You mentioned the low rate
of tariffs here. But I think it is the case of the kyat based on the
exchange rate which is fixed about 100 kyats to the US Dollar. So
has the whole exchange rate mechanism here been part of your
discussions? Because presumably that would also have an impact
on AFTA.

A.      We will be looking at that too. The exchange rate, of the
inflation rate. All those issues we will be discussed. But as I said
these are the details that we will be going into. What we have done
is just looked at very superficially. The tariff was just out of a matter
of curiosity and interest. Or I leave something for you to write on
before I leave. But it will be looked into. It is not the hundred to
kyat but according to the Minister for Coordination, I think honored
to whatever the FEC rate is.

Q.      Mr. Steven Brookes of Asia Times

        When you mentioned earlier assistance that ASEAN might be
giving to Myanmar until its entry are you talking about financial
assistance, technical assistance? Could you be more specific about

A.      I mentioned I don t think they need financial assistance. They
have told me in very clear terms that they can meet all the financial
obligations. Whether is it on the membership or whether it is
subscribing to the various ASEAN funds. And there are about 286
meetings a year in ASEAN attend to and that can be quite costly for
member countries. So they are aware of all the financial obligations
and they have not asked me for a penny more. They are happy to
meet, as I said whatever obligations they will be asked to fulfil. They
will need technical assistance definitely. And that as I said is in the
form of training of their officials and exposing them more to the
ASEAN meetings, to what we are doing at the ASEAN Secretariat
in all the various fields including science, technology environment,
drugs, transport, energy etc, etc.

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