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Myanmar conglomerate looking to joint ventures with Thai investors

Aik Htun

Aik Htun

Shwe Taung sets $500m five-year budget, focusing on realty

Shwe Taung Group, a Myanmar conglomerate, is interested in partnering with investors from Thailand and other countries in particularly the steel, factory-building and department-store businesses.

"We plan to invest about US$500 million in expansion over five years, focusing on property, shopping complexes and office towers," chairman Aik Htun said yesterday.

The group aims to cash in on the opening of Myanmar's economy and the government's reform of many industries, especially banking and retailing.

The group is in talks with Korea-based CJ Entertainment about the possibility of operating cinemas in Myanmar together, with a conclusion expected this year.

After prohibiting foreign investors from entering certain businesses, such as retailing, the Myanmar government is planning to enact a retail-business law allowing foreign firms to invest in and own such businesses. This would open the doors to many international brands to start sales and distribution operations in Myanmar.

The government has also passed foreign-investment laws, and banking-reform laws are expected to emerge in several months.

Shwe Taung Group has its hands in many industries including energy, construction and engineering, property, shopping centres, hotels, cement and construction materials, trading and entertainment.

It is interested in expanding its Junction Centre shopping mall chain.

Junction 8 opened in 1999 as its first shopping mall in Myanmar. On Kyaik Wine Pagoda Road within a 10-minute drive of Yangon International Airport, the mall attracts more than 3 million shoppers a year.

More Junction Centres followed in other cities - Zawana in 2007, Nay Pyi Taw in 2009 and Maw Tin in 2010. The latest is Junction Square, between Pyay Road and Kyundaw Street in Yangon. It started operating in March of last year with 26,628 square metres of space, 270 shops and three cinemas, including one offering 3D.

Aik Htun is also chairman of the International Business Promotion Centre, which has 87 members from the Myanmar business community. It was set up to promote business matching with foreign investor groups.

Junction Centre management wants to open five more malls over five years in big cities such as Mandalay.

Shwe Taung Group targets to double its business from $300 million (Bt9.6 billion) last year to between $500 million and $600 million in five years. Last year it paid $6.5 million in corporate income tax to the government.

The government allows foreign investors to own 100 per cent of operations in many businesses such as manufacturing, services and hotels.

"With only $50,000, you can set up a company in Myanmar," Aik Htun said.

Unemployment is still high, so foreign investors can find good workers quite easily. People are intelligent and they can catch on very fast, he added.

Pisanu Suvanajata, ambassador of Thailand to Myanmar, said a major strength of Myanmar was its strong commitment to reform.

"Myanmar also has a large, young population providing a low-cost labour force attractive to foreign investment. The country in rich in natural resources, such as land, water, gas and minerals, with abundant agricultural resources to be exploited for productivity improvement," he said.

The major constraints are its weak economic management and lack of experience with market mechanisms, limited fiscal resource mobilisation and underdeveloped financial industry.






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