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Mekong Memo Myanmar Weekly: Business, politics, finance, trade & legal news.
We monitor and filter the very best and most insightful stories from Southeast Asia directly to your inbox every week.
This week's Mekong Memo Myanmar touches on Chevron's prolonged withdrawal, US sanctions on Myanmar's oil revenue, and Canada sanctioning a conglomerate over surveillance concerns. Other top stories include ICBC Yangon launching a Chinese payment system, the launch of a digital rice industry platform, and a South Korean firm divesting from a controversial pearl venture. On the regional front, China is seeking enhanced border security while UNDP launched an e-learning portal for small businesses. We have also featured an article about the lost continent of Argoland being found in Southeast Asia, which is a follow-up to an article we posted in a previous edition of The Memo.
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Here is your Mekong Memo Myanmar for November, 2023. This edition is a little shorter than most, but we continue to monitor and share relevant stories as we uncover them. As always, your feedback is greatly appreciated - smash that reply button and tell us what you think.
Chevron's Prolonged Departure from Myanmar
Nearly two years after Chevron announced plans to leave Myanmar due to violence and human rights concerns, the energy giant remains entangled with its assets in the country. Despite agreeing to sell its 41.1% stake in the Yadana gas field to MTI Energy, the completion of this exit remains uncertain. This development comes as the U.S. imposes new sanctions on the country’s state oil company (next article), potentially complicating the situation for Chevron, which has not provided a timeline for its withdrawal.
Read more: Reuters
U.S. Targets Myanmar's Oil Revenue
The U.S. Treasury Department has sanctioned Myanmar's state-owned oil and gas company to cut off a significant source of foreign revenue for the regime. The sanctions include a ban on financial services such as investments and loans by U.S. entities to the firm. This move, in coordination with Britain and Canada, is intended to impair the military's ability to finance weapon purchases for use against civilians and follows allegations of the military engaging in severe human rights violations since its 2021 power seizure.
Read more: NHK World
ICBC Yangon Branch Launches CIPS
The ICBC Yangon Branch has joined the China’s Cross-Border Interbank Payment System (CIPS), in a shift away from US dollar reliance in international transactions. This move comes as Yuan settlement is now mandatory for transactions with China. The integration is being promoted as a way to improve payment efficiency between Myanmar and China, but also allows Myanmar to escape the transactional oversight that may come with using the U.S.-controlled SWIFT payment system.
Read more: The Irrawaddy
Canada Sanctions Myanmar Conglomerate On Surveillance Concerns
Canada has sanctioned a local conglomerate for aiding military surveillance, while the Norwegian telecom firm Telenor, which sold its Myanmar subsidiary to the group, has not faced any repercussions. The Shwe Byain Phyu Group, now with access to sensitive data (including call data records that specify the time and date of a call, its duration, location and the phone numbers of the involved parties) of over 18 million Telenor subscribers, could potentially assist the military in targeting dissidents. Despite the risks, Telenor's management insists that they had no other options.
Read more: Myanmar Now
Digital Rice Industry Platform Launches
Myanmar has initiated a digital transformation in its rice industry with the launch of the Myanmar Rice Online (MyRO) platform. This initiative, a collaboration between the Ministry of Commerce and the Myanmar Rice Federation, is designed to stabilize domestic rice prices and ensure sufficient levels for export. MyRO is intended to serve as a one-stop hub for industry stakeholders to access information and services, including digital certification, and is being touted as a step towards implementing national policy guidelines using digital technology.
Read more: The Star
South Korean Equity Giant Divests from Controversial Pearl Venture
South Korea's MBK Partners plans to offload its $500 million stake in Tasaki, a Japanese jeweler with a joint venture in Myanmar's military-controlled pearl industry. This decision comes as international sanctions and human rights advocacy groups' have harshened their criticism, as the partnership with Myanmar Pearl Enterprise (MPE) is seen as indirect support to the junta. The sale reflects growing civil society pressures and the interplay of business ethics and human rights in global trade.
Read more: Myanmar Now
China Seeks Enhanced Border Security
In the wake of increasing conflicts near the China-Myanmar border, China has pressed Myanmar's leadership to secure their shared boundary and ensure the safety of Chinese nationals and investments. The call for heightened security measures comes as Beijing's concerns grow due to the escalating violence threatening the Belt and Road Initiative's progress. China's insistence on restoring stability comes as the nation seeks to maintain a delicate balance between advancing its strategic economic interests and managing regional security challenges.
UNDP's New Small Business E-Learning Portal
In response to the economic challenges faced by Micro, Small, and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSMEs) in Myanmar, the United Nations Development Programme has launched a free E-learning Portal. This initiative is intended to support MSMEs by providing accessible, tailored business education to improve operations, reinforce responsible business practices, and foster an understanding of financial performance. The portal offers a range of courses, from digital literacy to marketing, with self-paced modules designed for knowledge sharing.
Read more: United Nations Myanmar
And now for something completely different.
While the focus of The Memo is on news for business, here’s a follow-up article from a story a few weeks ago about a lost continent that has apparently been hiding under the jungles of Southeast Asia.
Unveiling Argoland: The Lost Continent Rediscovered
After seven years of research, scientists have located the remnants of Argoland, a continent that vanished 155 million years ago, now found within Southeast Asia's jungles. This discovery challenges previous notions about Earth's geological history and the formation of Pangea. Argoland, once part of Australia, did not sink or subduct without a trace but instead fragmented into microcontinents, which then embedded themselves in various Southeast Asian regions. This finding not only fits with the current understanding of Pangea but also opens new avenues for exploring biodiversity and climate history.
Read more: Atlas Obscura
That’s all for this week, thanks for reading.
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