Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Investing in Burma by Derek Tonkin

Former British Ambassador Derek Tonkin.
British oil and gas companies currently visiting Burma include British Gas, BP and Shell. Premier Oil, who originally had a stake in Yetagun which they sold to Malaysia's Petronas, have also maintained their interest. British companies offer more advanced and cleaner technology than Russian, Chinese or Indian companies, and are likely to much more transparent  and responsible in their operations. A delegation from the Extracting Industries Transparency Initiative Secretariat is due in Burma later this month - Suu Kyi herself announced this pending visit in her speech to the British Parliament last month. MOGE and the Government are expected to sign up soon to the EITI Convention.
Total's contracts with MOGE were made public some time ago. Meanwhile the Ministry of Energy has included all their expected off-shore earnings in the National Budget 2012-2013 (See Item-14 of Table-5 at  which shows revenues of Kyats 2,639,705.580 million converted at the new floating rate at the time of Kyats 800 = US$1 to provide US$ 3.299 billion) but expenditure is estimated to reach 1,643,553.802 million or US$ 2.054 billion which would be government investment in the pipelines to China and offshore installations.

Like Nelson Mandela who thanked both Shell and BP for staying on in South Africa during the apartheid era even though it was ANC policy to persuade them to leave, so Suu Kyi has understood the contribution which Total (and UNOCAL/Chevron) have made by resisting the pressures to withdraw. Indeed, the standard of living along the Yetagun and Yadana pipelines is now estimated to be 30% higher than elsewhere in the region and the problem has been to dissuade more settlers from moving in order to enjoy the local prosperity.
It is important to understand that the contracts signed by foreign companies for exploration, production and operation of natural gas are not typical Joint Venture contracts, but standard international agreements which involve the immediate transfer on completion of all physical assets at the offshore fields to MOGE, leaving with the foreign company only the right to royalties from the sale of gas for the extent of the contact - 20 or 30 years. The only JVs would be a technical on-shore servicing company and the pipeline company.
None of the British companies engaged has any sense of "reckless optimism" which is felt only by carpet-baggers and beachcombers keen to land lucrative deals to sell on to unsuspecting principals. Everyone else currently engaged in investment in Burma is prudent, cautious, responsible and patient. This is why current foreign investment is at a very low ebb. No deals of substance have yet been signed. Burma hardly needs Coca-Cola as a priority investment.
Senator Mitch McConnell & ASSK in Rangoon (2012).
Nonetheless, in the UK (as in Australia) oil and gas companies are praying that the Americans will screw up their relaxation of sanctions by denying US companies the opportunity to compete. The Administration must be tearing its hair at congressional hostility to any relaxation of sanctions, not least the continuing denial of Burmese garment exports to the US which accounted for over 80% of all Burmese exports up to 2003 and which Suu Kyi would be very keen to resume as the garment industry is labour intensive, and competition is severe. Unfortunately, Senator Mitch McConnell has deliberately misled Suu Kyi into agreeing to the continuing ban, no doubt with the argument  that the US still needs to stop Burmese gems and timber going into the US. He wouldn't have told her that the main export is garments: 
Suu Kyi needs better advice.