British companies have interest in developing energy, mining, financial service, telecoms and tourism in Myanmar
BRITISH Prime Minister David Cameron will meet pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar on Friday (April 13), the first major Western leader to visit the long-isolated country since a 1962 coup began a half century of military rule.
His visit, confirmed by local sources, comes nearly two weeks after Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won historic April 1 by-elections by a landslide, convincing the US and European Union to consider relaxing economic sanctions imposed years ago in response to human rights abuses.
Suu Kyi’s party said Cameron will meet the Nobel Peace Prize laureate on Friday at her lakeside villa where she had been kept under house arrest until November 2010, and the two would dine together that evening at the British ambassador’s residence.
A scramble for economic opportunities in Myanmar is building steam, with Western firms vying to be among the first to do business in Myanmar once sanctions are lifted.
They are afraid they are missing out to competitors from China, India, Japan, Thailand and South Korea that are already well entrenched.
Big businesses across Europe want the EU to lift sanctions in the coming weeks, which would allow them into the country ahead of their US rivals. A formal European decision is expected on April 23.
British companies are among those seeking access to what could be huge opportunities in energy, mining, financial services, telecoms and tourism in Myanmar.
Cameron arrived in Japan on Tuesday (April 10), leading executives from around 35 companies including energy major Shell, defence giant BAE Systems and the world’s biggest miner BHP Billiton, at the start of a tour of Southeast Asia including Malaysia and Indonesia.
The British government declined to confirm whether Cameron would stop in Myanmar.
Cameron’s government is urging British companies to trade more with emerging countries, seeking new markets to jolt the sluggish British economy into life at a time when key trading partners in the euro zone are immersed in crisis.
Visiting Myanmar, particularly accompanied by a large business delegation, could be controversial as the EU has not yet lifted sanctions and maintains an arms embargo on Myanmar.
Tomas Valasek, director of foreign policy and defence at the Centre for European Reform thinktank in London, said there was some “one-upmanship” among EU countries when it came to Myanmar.
“Assuming Myanmar continues to develop, everybody in Europe wants to be seen as the one that broke the ice with the country,” he said.
Countries that were among the first to reach out could stand to have better trade relations with Myanmar, he said.
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