Myanmar parliament passes investment law, now with president

YANGON Fri Sep 7, 2012 7:34am EDT

Myanmar's President Thein Sein (C) visits Laem Chabang port, in Chonburi province, east of Bangkok July 22, 2012. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom

Myanmar's President Thein Sein (C) visits Laem Chabang port, in Chonburi province, east of Bangkok July 22, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Chaiwat Subprasom

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YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar's parliament passed a long-delayed foreign investment law on Friday and it has now gone back to the president, who has the final say and had resisted certain changes proposed earlier by lawmakers.

"It was passed today," lower house lawmaker Thein Nyunt told Reuters.

He said one big change was the dropping of a proposed requirement for foreign investors to put $5 million in start-up capital when setting up joint ventures with local partners.

Foreign firms are lining up to get into Myanmar, which has opened up fast since a military regime gave way to the quasi-civilian government of President Thein Sein 18 months ago. His reforms have led Western countries to lift or suspend sanctions.

However, most firms are waiting to see details of the investment law, which has been held up in parliament for five months as proposed changes have gone back and forth between the assembly and the president's office.

Some of the changes were deemed protectionist by the president's aides, who argued they would scare off foreign companies, to the benefit of the crony capitalists who dominated Myanmar's economy under the junta and remain a force.

An earlier draft had also put restrictions on 13 sectors including manufacturing, farming, agriculture and fisheries, limiting foreign firms to a maximum 49 percent of any investment there. Thein Nyunt said that had now been altered to 50 percent.

Details on other changes were not immediately available.

A member of the president's National Economic and Social Advisory Council, who asked not to be named, said: "I think these positive changes will be acceptable to the president. He may even enact the law on Monday."

Sources had earlier told Reuters that Thein Sein wanted the start-up capital requirement dropped and the maximum foreign stake in joint ventures increased.

If he is still unhappy with the proposals, the draft would not go back to lawmakers for some time as parliament is now in recess and will not meet again until the third week of October.

(Reporting by Aung Hla Tun; Editing by Alan Raybould)

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