ASEAN business leaders head for Rangoon

More than 30 Southeast Asian business leaders dubbed the ASEAN Business Club are due to visit Rangoon on Monday for talks with Burma’s largest federation of industries, as well as opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, as the country seeks to lure greater investment from regional neighbours.

The delegation would focus primarily on bolstering the country’s automobile industry, said Aung Khin Myint of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI). Currently the automobile industry focuses largely on assembling parts, but Burma wants to develop its own manufacturing sector.

“We need to form a group for automobile industries and to strengthen our production output because the [government] is keen on domestic production rather than imports,” he told DVB.

But the talks lined up between members of the club and Burmese officials point to the rush underway to capitalise on developments in Burma that are primarily aimed at open up the country to investment, both with ASEAN states but also the west.

The EU recently eased sanctions on Burma, and Washington is expected to take similar measures in the near future as both look to secure a stake in what is rapidly emerging as a key strategic market for the west.

As well as the ASEAN Business Club, international delegates are attending a gathering of businessmen and academics in Rangoon organised by the Australian company, AsiaLink, which bills the event as an opportunity for individuals and companies to network prior to the lifting of sanctions.

Such is the rush for Burma that hotels in Rangoon are now at full capacity and teeming with businesspeople. Landlords have sought to exploit the frenzy by bumping up rental fees for office space – Reuters reported that Centrepoint Towers in downtown Rangoon now offers $US30 per square metre for an office, up from $US13 last year. House prices in the commercial capital have also soared.

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