U.S. gives banking green light to Myanmar tycoons

Mon Feb 25, 2013 8:54pm EST
 
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By Aung Hla Tun

YANGON (Reuters) - Two banks owned by tycoons associated with Myanmar's former military regime will start to do business with U.S. companies and investors in the latest reward for the Southeast Asian country's rapid political transformation.

The U.S. Treasury Department said on Friday it would issue a general licence for four of Myanmar's biggest banks -- Myanma Economic Bank, Myanma Investment and Commercial Bank, Asia Green Development Bank and Ayeyarwady Bank -- allowing U.S. companies and citizens to deal with them.

The easing of sanctions on Asia Green Development Bank and Ayeyarwady Bank underlines how politically connected capitalists of the old regime -- whom the United States once castigated -- are re-inventing themselves and retaining a strong foothold as foreign investors race to enter Myanmar.

It helps remove uncertainty among U.S. companies over lingering restrictions on their dealings in Myanmar and is expected to increase the domestic reach of U.S. credit card firms Visa Inc and MasterCard Inc.

The decision was announced ahead of a visit to Myanmar by 50 U.S. executives on Monday to explore opportunities in the resource-rich nation, the latest sign of burgeoning foreign corporate interest in the country of 60 million.

"This announcement will undoubtedly help the further development of the market," Antonio Corro, MasterCard's chief representative for IndoChina, said in a statement. "We expect that Myanmar's tourism sector will continue to grow rapidly and so building card acceptance is key."

Washington eased sanctions last July to allow U.S. companies to invest in and provide financial services to Myanmar, dropping restrictions on dealing with most Myanmar banks.

Sean Turnell, an expert on Myanmar's economy at Australia's Macquarie University, said the latest move was significant because it would normalize the flow of international funds in and out of Myanmar. But he said the inclusion of formerly blacklisted Ayeyarwady Bank and Asia Green Development Bank was a surprise given previous U.S. assurances that they "still had their eye on the worst offenders of the past regime".   Continued...

 
An employee stands behind a MasterCard logo during the launch of the international credit card issuer's first ATM transaction in Myanmar, in Yangon, in this November 15, 2012 file photo. Two banks owned by tycoons associated with Myanmar's former military regime will start to do business with U.S. companies and investors in the latest reward for the Southeast Asian country's rapid political transformation. The U.S. Treasury Department said on February 22, 2013, it would issue a general licence for four of Myanmar's biggest banks - Myanma Economic Bank, Myanma Investment and Commercial Bank, Asia Green Development Bank and Ayeyarwady Bank - allowing U.S companies and citizens to deal with them. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun/Files