Myanmar: Hefty Fines for flouting building regulations
From April 1, building owners in Mandalay will face hefty fines if their buildings violate government regulations or have been constructed without a valid permit. As per the Mandalay City Development Committee (MCDC) building rules section 10 (a), (b), (c), the new fine rates for buildings constructed beyond the permit stipulations or without approval are US$10.89 (K15,000) per square foot for reinforced concrete buildings and US$7.26 (K10,000) per square foot for brick nogging buildings. The penalty for business and contract buildings will be US$10.89 (K15,000) per square foot, while for other buildings it will be US$5.81 (K8,000) per square foot.
Earlier, builders violating the norms could easily pay a small fine and continue flouting guidelines. The MCDC hopes that the new fines will force builders to construct in accordance with the regulations. In some cases, the fines can be higher than the value of the building depending on the violation. The MCDC also stipulated that buildings for business use should include parking lots, fire extinguishers, and automated fire extinguishing systems.
Thailand: Strong growth expected in e-commerce market
Analysts say that Thailand’s e-commerce market is expected to grow around 20 percent this year as more consumers shop online. At present, only three percent of consumers shop online, underlining the significant growth potential for the online market. Thai retailer Central Group only had one percent of its revenue come from online sales. The increased online sales expected this year are attributed to growing internet and smartphone use as well as improved logistics and e-payment systems. Quality and reliability of online shopping services will further help the sector.
The Electronic Transactions Development Agency predicted that the e-commerce market in Thailand will be worth US$7.1 billion (THB 2.52 trillion) this year. Thailand has around 41 million internet users, and 41 million Facebook, 33 million Line, 7.8 million Instagram, and 5.3 million Twitter users. Analysts have further stated that omni-channel strategies, meaning a balance between physical retail stores and online shops, would benefit the country.
By Dezan Shira & Associates
Editor: Alexander Chipman Koty
As Myanmar continues to open up after years of isolation, many foreign investors and multinational companies are entering the country for the first time. For investors establishing businesses from the ground-up, skilled and experienced foreign workers are often brought in to oversee the establishment of new operations. The ability to employ skilled foreign workers is particularly important in Myanmar given the poor state of training and work-preparedness in the country. According to the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security, of Myanmar’s population of approximately 52 million, there are only about 500 skilled workers who meet international standards.
The laws concerning the employment of foreign workers in Myanmar are still developing, as is the case with many other regulations governing the country’s rapidly changing business environment. Myanmar lacks a comprehensive work permit system for foreign workers, though the National League for Democracy-led government is drafting legislation to create a more cohesive framework. That being said, there are currently multiple paths for foreigners to acquire legal working status in Myanmar, which will be explored below.
By Alexander Chipman Koty
Following a series of bold political reforms beginning in 2011, Myanmar has sprung onto the radar of foreign investors as one of Asia’s last frontier markets. For decades, Myanmar was an isolated and overlooked pariah state dominated by a repressive military government that crushed dissent and participated in illegal drug and jewels trades. However, the military government’s unexpected democratic reforms, which culminated in the rise of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi to power in 2015 and the removal of American economic sanctions in 2016, quickly changed the narrative surrounding the Southeast Asian nation.
Historically one of the region’s wealthiest countries but presently among its poorest, Myanmar has long been underperforming its vast economic potential, as the military regime’s ineffective political and economic policies hamstrung the country’s development. Favorable demographics, an advantageous location, and rich natural resources – along with the introduction of substantial economic reforms – make Myanmar an intriguing destination for adventurous investors who were previously blocked from entering the market.
By Mike Vinkenborg
With the government of Myanmar recently passing its new Investment Law, taking effect in April 2017, the country is showing its continued commitment to attracting foreign investment. After reopening its economy in 2012 following several political reforms beginning the year before, Myanmar has been receiving significant increases in foreign direct investment, reaching a high of US$9.5 billion in the 2015/2016 fiscal year ending in March. To put this in perspective, the total amount of FDI added up to only US$329.6 million in 2009/2010, the year before the military ceded power. While oil, gas, and energy remain the sectors with the highest FDI inflows, investments into Myanmar’s manufacturing industry are rapidly gaining traction, having risen from just US$33.2 million to over US$1 billion in the same period, and hitting a high of US$1.8 billion in 2014.
As China strives to move up the value chain and focus more on high-end manufacturing, the country’s wages have risen to the point where many garment manufacturers are looking to invest elsewhere. Cambodia and Vietnam have already established themselves as alternatives, and now Myanmar is bringing a new labor force to the competition. Clothing exports have already gone up from US$337 million in 2010 to US$1.46 billion in 2015. And now that the economic sanctions by the EU and US have been lifted, the Myanmar Garment Manufacturers Association (MGMA) has set a target for exports to increase to US$12 billion by 2020. Doing so would create an estimated 1.25 million new jobs, a sharp increase from the approximately 250,000 people currently working in the garment industry.
Philippines: Free Trade Agreement with European Free Trade Association Expected in August 2017
The Philippines’ government is expected to complete ratification of its Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the four-nation European Free Trade Association (EFTA) by August 2017. The four countries include Switzerland, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. The agreement is currently with the Department of Foreign Affairs and will later be sent to the Senate for ratification. This is part of the Philippines’ three-pillar strategy of widening and strengthening its access to Europe – one of the country’s biggest market.
Trade between EFTA states and the Philippines remained stable worth around US$ 850 million in 2015. As per the FTA, EFTA states will abolish all custom duties on industrial products, including fish and other marine products from the Philippines. In turn, Philippines will gradually eliminate custom duties on industrial products, fish and other marine products from EFTA states over a 10-year period. The Philippines is also currently negotiating a FTA with the European Union (EU), which will be in effect once internal procedures are completed.
By Alexander Chipman Koty
The Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC) recently announced that the country’s new Investment Law will come into force for the financial year starting April 2017. The Investment Law, which passed the lower house of Myanmar’s legislature on September 28th and the upper house on October 5th, was signed by President Htin Kyaw on October 18th and represents further liberalization of the Southeast Asian nation’s foreign investment laws and rapidly changing economic environment.
While the exact contents of the new law have yet to be finalized, many of its key features have already come to the surface. The Investment Law combines the previous Myanmar Citizen’s Investment Law with the Foreign Investment Law, ending Myanmar’s status as the only ASEAN member with separate investment laws for citizens and foreigners. Changes to Myanmar’s previous investment regulations include a new approval process with the MIC, updates to the distribution and length of various tax incentives, and further easing of foreign access to land leases. Although it remains a challenging destination for investment due to ongoing political uncertainty and a relatively undeveloped legal and regulatory framework, the new Investment Law reflects Myanmar’s continued commitment to attracting foreign direct investment.
By: Dezan Shira & Associates
Myanmar’s Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population has extended e-visas to three overland crossings with the Kingdom of Thailand. Following a limited introduction of e-visas at select airports in July, the rollout of e-visas at land crossings has been applied since September 1st. The move is set to significantly reduce application times, and is being rolled out as part of a larger push to replace in person applications that were previously required.
Overland Crossings Set to Accept e-Visas
While more crossings are to be included in the near future, the three crossing that currently accept e-visas include Tachileik, Myawaddy, and Kawthaung. Similar to the rollout of e-Visas for aviation, the introduction of the e-visa program at land crossings is to be gradually expanded as athourities optimize their internal system.
- Tachileik: Located in the north of the country, Tachileik is a key point of transit for those traveling between Laos and Myanmar via Thailand.
- Myawaddy: Located in Central Myanmar, this crossing has become a hub for the transit of gems and other mineral resources flowing out of Myanmar.
- Kawthaung: The southern most crossing that has been opened to the land e-visa program. Primarily used as a transit point for tourists crossing between the two countries, the area is also known for agriculture products including: rubber, betel nut, cashew nut, coconut and oil palm.
By: Dezan Shira & Associates
Among a myriad of factors which determine competitiveness within ASEAN member states, rates of taxation are a particularly salient judge of character for the treatment of foreign investment. In recent years, corporate income tax (CIT) has become the standard bearer for tax benchmarking, however, foreign investors will be faced with a variety of different taxes in the event that capital is committed. For those importing and exporting, indirect taxation, including value added taxation (VAT) and goods and services tax (GST) are significant forms of tax that should not be disregarded.
In essence, an indirect tax adds to the price of a purchasable product or a payable service, thereby increasing the cost of that product or service and causing consumers to indirectly pay its rate of taxation. Indirect taxes thus differ from other forms of taxation, such as corporate income and individual income tax; both of which require a business or an individual to pay the applicable amount directly to a government.
Myanmar: India to Setup an SEZ in Sittwe
VK Singh, India’s Minister of State for External Affairs, announced India’s plans to build a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in the Burmese city of Sittwe. The announcement was made at the India-ASEAN Foreign Ministers meet in Laos. The SEZ proposed by India will reportedly by located about 50 miles (80kms) south of Sittwe and will provide competition to the Chinese SEZ.
The Indian government aims to expand India’s footprint in the Southeast Asian region. India has already build a port in Sittwe. The plan to build the SEZ comes as a backdrop to China’s plan to build several roads and ports, as a part of their One Belt One Road Initiative. Myanmar is developing rapidly as its economy opens up with several countries investing in the country to gain influence in the region. The investments bode well for investors that plan to enter or are currently in Myanmar, as they will likely benefit from increased infrastructure.