Un­pol­ished gem

Aus­tralian busi­ness is look­ing for op­por­tu­ni­ties in Myan­mar as the na­tion emerges from self-im­posed seclu­sion

The Australian - The Deal - - News - Story by: Michael Sains­bury

Aus­tralian busi­ness stakes its claims in Myan­mar

I T’S closing in on mid­night when our taxi pulls up out­side a run-down apart­ment block on the edge of cen­tral busi­ness dis­trict of Myan­mar’s com­mer­cial hub and for­mer cap­i­tal Yan­gon. The at­ten­dant loung­ing on a chair out front, shows us up a short flight of stairs to the en­trance; down the end of the cor­ri­dor, past an el­e­va­tor you would think twice about step­ping into there is an im­pos­ing door. Our guide knocks, and the wooden peep­hole slides back. It’s opened by a smil­ing young Burmese bar­man, the din of latenight chat­ter from the buzzing crowd clutch­ing drinks swirls over a 1920s jazz sound­track.

Hold­ing court in the mid­dle of the room is So­phie Barry, a kaftan-clad Aus­tralian who worked for decades as a news cam­er­a­woman and co-owns the bar with a Bangkok-based Aus­tralian. “Don’t you love it,” says Barry, who re­cently re­turned to Yan­gon af­ter seven years run­ning a bar in Kabul, “it’s a real fron­tier town.”

In the crowd is Alas­tair Mackay, a tou­sled-haired 30-some­thing who comes from ru­ral Braid­wood in south­ern NSW. He has a busi­ness re­fit­ting vin­tage yachts at a dry dock on the city’s barge-laden Yan­gon River. “I sailed up from Australia 11 years ago, and I just ended up stay­ing,” he says. At the time, Yan­gon was one of the few places in the re­gion he could get the kind of dock­ing fa­cil­ity he wanted. When he first ar­rived Myan­mar was still very much in the dark days of the rul­ing mil­i­tary junta. The place was a lot cheaper, and run down.

Four years af­ter the junta opened up the coun­try, for­merly known as Burma, to the world, it is at­tract­ing a flood of for­eign in­ter­est, in­clud­ing from Australia. Ma­jor com­pa­nies such as ANZ and Wood­side Petroleum are set­ting up busi­ness while a host of more ad­ven­tur­ous Aus­tralians are com­ing to a coun­try that is shap­ing up as the next Asian fron­tier.

Ho­tel prices in Yan­gon are sky­rock­et­ing as for­eign­ers flock in. Asked about op­por­tu­ni­ties for Aus­tralians, Mackay laughs. “You should have come yes­ter­day,” he says. He may be right but Myan­mar is still seen as a land of po­ten­tial. With a pop­u­la­tion of more than 50 mil­lion, it has the big­gest land­mass in Southeast Asia apart from In­done­sia, and an abun­dance of nat­u­ral re­sources.

In 2011, the quasi-civil­ian gov­ern­ment shocked the world by an­nounc­ing a pro­gram of eco­nomic re­form. It re­leased thou­sands of po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers, floated its cur­rency, re­moved wide­spread me­dia cen­sor­ship and em­barked on a na­tional in­fra­struc­ture im­prove­ment pro­gram. A world­wide lift­ing of sanc­tions fol­lowed.

Bill Shorten, then the fi­nan­cial ser­vices min­is­ter, led a del­e­ga­tion to the coun­try in Oc­to­ber 2012, three months af­ter Australia of­fi­cially lifted its trade and fi­nan­cial sanc­tions. The fol­low­ing June Australia’s trade pro­mo­tion agency, Austrade, opened an of­fice. Af­ter a visit last Au­gust, Trade Min­is­ter An­drew

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.