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People power forces Myanmar Beer to tap out

Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited has applied to terminate its Myanmar Brewery Limited venture under Section 298(f) of the Myanmar Companies Law, citing overwhelming debt. 

The move comes after an almost ten-month boycott of the company which saw the once ubiquitous brand comprehensively trampled over by the Burmese people following the February coup. 

The brands of Myanmar Brewery Limited—which include Kirin Ichiban, Myanmar Beer, Andaman Gold, and Black Shield—have been declared contraband by ethnic armed organizations, local PDF groups and, most recently, Burma’s parallel National Unity Government; resistance forces have taken great relish in promoting their interception, and destruction, of the products over recent months.

Myanmar Brewery Limited is a joint venture between sanctioned military conglomerate MEHL and Japan’s Kirin Holdings; MEHL bought a majority US$564 million worth of shares in the Myanmar Beer and Mandalay Beer production businesses in 2015 and quickly grew Myanmar Beer to become both the country’s most widely imbibed alcoholic drink and its most recognisable brand. 

Kirin recently announced that it had incurred a fatal 49.4% decline in third quarter year-on-year earnings (and previously announced that it had lost US$193 million over 2Q). The Japanese brewer had said that it was to withdraw from the venture shortly after February’s coup but was, until recently, rumoured to have been looking at ways to maintain a foothold in the market. 

It is currently unclear what the future holds for MEHL’s brewing assets. A tightly controlled industry in Burma, it is almost unthinkable that a new alcohol production venture would be agreed upon without the military retaining a majority share. A once highly lucrative money-spinner for the junta, the generals are also likely to hold their assets in the hope of one day restocking Burma’s bars.

A number of commentators today speculated that a Chinese partner could enter the market, a move that would surely make the military’s toxic brewer even more unpalatable to the Burmese people; quite simply, if a new brand was to arise from the dregs of Myanmar Beer, who would drink it?

What is certain is that the claiming of the scalp of Myanmar Beer is yet another gigantic validating achievement in the ten-month tidal wave that is Burma’s protest movement.

A decision on MEHL’s application will be made at the Yangon Western District Court on December 10.


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