Posts Tagged ‘Burma’

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Burma: An Old Civilization Opens to New Ideas

June 9, 2014

Doug Barry is a Senior International Trade Specialist in the International Trade Administration’s Global Knowledge Center.

Burma could become the next market for your goods and services.

Burma could become the next market for your goods and services.

Burma is opening up as a nation and an economy after decades of isolation. As the nation develops, there are numerous opportunities for U.S. companies to support the nation as it grows, modernizes, and brings in new products and services.

Commerce Secretary Pritzker completed a commercial diplomacy trip to Burma and other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) along with a delegation of U.S. CEOs and the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council to solidify the commercial relationship between the United States and the region.

The International Trade Administration’s Commercial Service is also opening an office in Rangoon to support U.S. businesses looking for opportunities in this new market. Our staff will help companies understand market trends, navigate Burmese regulations, and find qualified business partners.

Commercial Officer Mike McGee is based in Thailand, but has worked with companies doing business in Burma for years. He spoke about the U.S.-Burma commercial relationship and path forward with Doug Barry of ITA’s Global Knowledge Center.

Barry: You commute regularly between Bangkok and Rangoon. Since we spoke a year ago about the easing of sanctions and the opening of the country to U.S. investment, in what ways have things changed?

McGee: Burma still has a wealth of need. After more than 50 years of stagnation and isolation, the country and its people need just about everything—from consumer goods to housing to a functioning electrical grid. So there is a huge opportunity, and there’s almost no sector that does not have tremendous need for bringing in new companies and products.

Barry: There is great internal and external pressure to open up more and to reform. How’s the government doing?

McGee: It depends on who you ask. I think it’s accurate to say that a lot of progress has been made in a short time, but much more needs to be done. We feel strongly that there can be a commercial connection to further recognition of human rights, and that will be a key focus of our work here going forward.

U.S. companies that are on the ground now fully support this approach. They are not here to extract and leave. They want to help the Burmese prosper, be free, and contribute to the well-being of the entire region. We are in this for the long haul, and much patience and engagement on every level is needed.

Barry: How do political and business leaders in Burma view the United States?

McGee: Very positively. We hear over and over again how the United States is the “Gold Standard” for just about everything.

In the area of energy production, especially electrical, the government invites greater participation by the U.S. private sector. They’re also interested in our LNG and wind power technology. Some earlier energy contracts have gone to UK and Chinese companies, but in future contracting rounds I think we’ll see much more U.S. participation.

Barry: U.S. economic sanctions have eased but not disappeared.

McGee: That’s true. If the reforms backslide or don’t continue forward, there needs to be consequences. The government is in uncharted waters, and there is much that we don’t understand about its workings.

That said, the United States is engaging with the Burmese on a variety of fronts. The U.S. Agency for International Development has programs in economic development and creating a civil society. The Peace Corps is setting up shop. Treasury and Agriculture people are here. The U.S. Commercial Service will open an office soon to help U.S. businesses spot opportunities and find buyers.

Barry: Burma is not a rich country, and “grinding” is an apt word to describe the poverty in the countryside where most Burmese live.

McGee: It’s not rich, yet. Burma is one of the most underdeveloped countries in the world, so it’s very difficult to try to introduce new technologies and new programs, partly because of the lack of a regulatory infrastructure, a legal infrastructure in place, but also just the poverty that exists.

The good news is that this is in many ways, a very wealthy country. It is very rich in resources and will have huge bearing for many years in the Southeast Asia and East Asia Pacific.

Barry: It’s a pretty exciting prospect for U.S. companies to get in on the ground floor.

McGee: Yes. What we have been largely advising is that companies find distributors and begin to get their products into the country. We can help, and will be even more helpful when the Commercial Service office opens in the U.S. Embassy later this year.

Barry: How do you help U.S. companies find partners?

McGee: We help with the due diligence process because there still is a fairly sizeable list of people who are prohibited for us to do business with. We offer a service called International Company Profile in which we make sure that their intended partners are the best choice in every sense of the phrase.

Increasingly, there are traders who are looking for the best businesspeople with the best price on the products the people need and want in the country. One of the things that I’ve been very surprised at is how vibrant the commercial environment is despite all of the prohibitions, despite all of the obstacles.

The Burmese are very resourceful, and they are very kind and friendly people.

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New Expansion to Support New Opportunities

April 29, 2014

Arun Kumar is the Assistant Secretary for Global Markets and Director General of the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service.

Arun Kumar is the Assistant Secretary for Global Markets and Director General of the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service.

Arun Kumar

This post originally appeared on the Department of Commerce blog.

Last week, Commerce Secretary Pritzker made an important announcement that demonstrates the United States’ commitment to supporting developing economies and the Department of Commerce’s commitment to U.S. businesses competing overseas.

The Department’s International Trade Administration will open offices in five new markets, bringing Foreign Commercial Service (CS) officers into some of the world’s most rapidly developing economies. In cooperation with the U.S. State Department, we will open offices in Angola, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Burma this calendar year.

These new offices, and our staff additions in other offices around the world, will make us more capable of supporting U.S. exporters. We can support more Gold Key Matchmaking, we can conduct more market research, and we can help connect U.S. companies to more global markets.

As a new member of the Department of Commerce team, I’m very excited to be a part of this major expansion – especially in such important markets for U.S. businesses.

Sub-Saharan Africa is one of the fastest growing economic regions in the world. The International Monetary Fund predicts continued growth throughout the continent, as part of a broad continental economic transformation.

Our new offices will support White House initiatives like Trade Africa and Power Africa, which have spearheaded a larger campaign to bolster development throughout the continent.

As U.S. companies look to ship goods to Africa, help increase electrical capacity, or help improve transportation networks, they will receive unparalleled assistance and expertise from our staff. With our new offices on the continent, we will be able to find partners for American companies, help navigate regulatory hurdles, and support the development that will make Africa thrive.

Our team in Thailand is already assisting American companies doing business in Burma, and our new office in Rangoon is a symbol of the importance of this market and of America’s commitment to Burmese reform, growth, and increased openness. We know that the Burmese people see U.S. goods as being of high quality, and the nation’s businesses are looking to get involved with American companies.

As this expansion takes place, these markets are where we will truly see the mutual benefits of trade.

As U.S. companies find more opportunities in these growing economies, they will bring the infrastructure and ideas that improves quality of life for citizens and they will support the partnerships that spur innovation among local businesses.

This announcement is just the start. I’m very excited to see how this expansion will help support existing partnerships, create new opportunities, and bring about the kind of development that is only possible through global trade.

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Burma is Opening for Business

July 17, 2013

Doug Barry is a Senior International Trade Specialist in the International Trade Administration’s Global Knowledge Center. 

Burma could become the next market for your goods and services.

Burma could become the next market for your goods and services.

After decades of political and economic isolation, Burma is slowly opening to the world. The U.S. government has issued a general license making it easier for American companies to do business there.

While a trade relationship formalizes between the United States and Burma, the International Trade Administration office in Bangkok, an hour’s flight away, will assist U.S. companies with market intelligence and business matchmaking in Burma. Senior Commercial Service Officer Mike McGee recently met with U.S. business leaders interested in exporting to Burma. While in town, he talked with International Trade Specialist Doug Barry of the Global Knowledge Center.

Barry: What are opportunities that you see now in Burma for U.S. companies?

McGee: Burma has a wealth of needs. After 50 years of stagnation and isolation, pretty much everything that the country and the people desire is in need of updating or introducing. So you have a huge opportunity there for everything from consumer goods to infrastructure to medical equipment. There’s almost no sector that does not have tremendous need for introducing new companies and products into the market.

Barry: What are the major challenges of doing business there?

McGee: You can imagine the challenges with a country that has been of off the map, so to speak, for 50-plus years. There are a lot of challenges in the regulatory and legal framework. There are so many areas where the legislation is 50 to 100 years old, and for a better part of the last 40, 50 years, it hasn’t been enforced. Updating these statutes regarding introducing a product into the country, getting it registered, and getting protection for intellectual rights, are all challenges that we’re doing our best to try to support.

Barry: It sounds like an uphill climb.

McGee: The good side is that in many ways Burma is a wealthy country; it is very rich in resources. It is geographically located in one of the most important places in the world, and will have a huge bearing for many years in the Southeast Asia and East Asia Pacific regions. It is, in many ways, the linchpin for so many things.

Barry: The opportunity to get in on the ground floor in this market can be a pretty exciting prospect for U.S. companies, right?

McGee: Yes. We have been advising companies that are interested in this market to identify distributors that can help them introduce their products into the country – and most of them are doing this. One of the big sanction difficulties was financial services. With the recent easing of sanctions by the U.S. government, financial services are now available and U.S. companies can get paid.

Barry: What about distributors?

McGee: Finding the right distributor, finding the right representative for businesses is a little bit of a challenge, but we’re doing our best to try to provide some of the services that people need in order to find the right kind of partner.

The biggest element that we have going is the due diligence process because there still is a fairly sizeable list of people who are prohibited from doing business with us. It’s called the Specially Designated Nationals List managed by the U.S. Treasury Department. We offer our clients an International Company Profile service that allows us to ensure potential Burmese partners are credible and have the appropriate abilities and experience.

Our goal is to help U.S. companies steer clear of partners that may end up causing more problems than assistance.

Barry: What’s the private sector like now? We hear a lot about businesses that are run by the Burmese military. Then there are people of Indian ancestry. There are ethnic Burmese, as well as other ethnic groups.

McGee: The Burmese are a very resourceful people. While there were many sanctions that inhibited doing business with the country, exports from the United States were only sanctioned in certain elements.

There’s a lot of effort on the part of our embassy and the U.S. government in general to persuade the Burmese military to get out of the formal economy because they do manage a huge chunk of it. But there are a lot of other areas where there are businesspeople who are looking for the best products at the best price and the quality that the Burmese people need and want.

Barry: How is the U.S. perceived?

McGee: There’s the highest level of receptivity for U.S. products. We have a very, very positive image in the country. So you’re finding people – whether they’re ethnic Burmese, one of the minority groups, or from the Indian population – they are all seeking the best product lines and want to represent U.S. companies as quickly as possible.

Barry: What was it like for you on your first visit there? Plane lands, door opens…

McGee: It was a lot more vibrant than I expected. There is a great sense of pride among the Burmese people.

However, nearly 75-80 percent of the country is without electricity. Large portions of the nation’s agricultural farms are worked with no machinery. There are beautiful sections of the country – like Bagan in the north – that are ripe for travel and tourism development. The opportunities for U.S. companies to showcase their products and services are limitless.

Barry: What’s your advice for U.S. small- and medium-sized enterprises? Wait a while until things play out and settle down a bit? Or cautiously enter? Or forget about it entirely?

McGee: Begin to learn about it. Visit our website, export.gov/thailand. There’s a section on Burma. We continually update a database that provides links to resources and information our team has gathered about doing business in Burma. You can contact my team through the website to learn about the market, its opportunities, and how to get started. We want to work with U.S. companies to be able to give them the advice from our experience and to make sure that their business is successful and that they don’t run afoul of something problematic.

Barry: Can people contact you directly?

McGee: We are 12 time zones ahead of Washington, and so email me – that’s the best thing to do.

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