* Already has independent dealer in country
* With sanctions suspended, will bring finance arm to bear
By Scott Malone
May 18 (Reuters) - Following the U.S. move to lift trade sanctions that had limited investment in Myanmar, Caterpillar Inc aims to use its financial services arm to boost its presence in the poor Southeast Asian nation.
The world's largest maker of earth-moving equipment had already sold its bulldozers and excavators in the country through an independent dealer, but had to maintain an arm's-length distance from that company due to the rules that prohibited direct U.S. investment.
"The opening up of opportunities with the decision on sanctions is something that will allow us to have a more traditional relationship with the dealer there," said Jim Dugan, a spokesman for the Peoria, Illinois-based company.
The biggest change is that its finance arm -- which accounted for 4.6 percent of its $60.14 billion in revenue last year -- will now be able to lend money to its local dealer to help finance sales of Caterpillar equipment and expand its footprint in the country, which has huge natural gas reserves but an under-developed infrastructure after two decades of military rule, which ended after elections last year.
"There had been prohibitions on financial-services support, and as we understand it these would be lifted (with the suspension of sanctions) and we believe this will give us an opportunity to support that dealer better, to better allow them to expand and grow and support the customers in the market," Dugan said.
Like many big industrial companies, also including General Electric Co, Textron Inc and Harley-Davidson Inc , Caterpillar operates a financial services unit intended to make it easier to sell its products.
Asia has broadly emerged as a weak spot for Caterpillar sales this year, largely due to slowing Chinese investment in construction and infrastructure. The company said in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that its dealers' sales in the region grew at just 5 percent in the three months ended in April, down from 20 percent in the three months ended in February.