Myanmar foreign investment bill in parliament again

YANGON Thu Nov 1, 2012 12:11am EDT

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YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar's new foreign investment bill was with parliament on Thursday, after amendments to address concerns of foreign firms eager to enter the country, and it could be quickly approved and sent to the president to be signed into law, lawmakers said.

The bill has passed back and forth between the legislative and executive branches since March in a tussle involving a government eager to attract foreign investment, tycoons determined to protect their monopolies, and small businesses keen not to be shut out.

"The bill of the new Foreign Investment Law will be brought to the Union Parliament on November 1, where I think it will be passed after some discussion," Thein Nyunt, lower house law maker and leader of New National Democratic Party (NNDP), told Reuters.

"Since agreement had been reached between the bill committees of the upper and lower houses on the most important provisions, I am sure the bill will be approved," he added, without elaborating on the content of the bill.

A member of one of the committees, who attended an emergency meeting in October, also said agreement had been reached on the main provisions.

A clause requiring foreign investors to provide at least 35 percent of start-up capital in a joint venture with local partners had been dropped, he said, asking not to be named.

"Now it has been changed to 'the participation ratio of the joint venture is only to be decided by local and foreign partners'. It means anything they both agree," he said.

Another controversial provision stipulated that foreigners could only own 50 percent of a joint venture in certain sectors deemed sensitive.

"Now it has been decided not to mention this ratio in the Foreign Investment Law since it can sting foreign investors. Instead, the ratio will be mentioned only in the relevant rules and regulations, and only if necessary," the committee member said.

"These changes were initiated by the president, so I am sure he will sign the bill when it is sent to him," he added, suggesting that could happen in November.

President Thein Sein took office in March 2011 at the head of a quasi-civilian government that brought almost 50 years of military rule to an end.

He has undertaken economic and political reforms that have persuaded Western countries to suspend sanctions and prompted an upsurge of interest in the country by multinational firms, who see potential in its abundant resources and primitive economy.

(Editing by Alan Raybould and Robert Birsel)

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