Foreigners embrace Burma

RELATED QUOTES

SymbolPriceChange
MA74.65+1.29
GE26.51+0.09
SCBFF21.78+0.12

Barack Obama's visit to Burma today is the first ever made by a US president. But the former British colony is increasingly attracting foreign companies and expat workers too.

Expats are poised to take advantage of the wealth of opportunities in Burma, as the country opens itself up to the West.

US President Barack Obama’s trip to the former British colony is the latest example of how Western politicians and companies are embracing the country's transition to democracy with open arms.

Burma, which now calls itself Myanmar, has vast untapped natural resources and a population of 60 million people, which is larger than both South Africa and South Korea.

The easing of sanctions against the former military state has prompted global multinationals to try and capitalise on a massively underdeveloped country looking for international investment and expertise.

Already the world’s biggest companies are arriving there and are keen to bring in their own foreign talent. They include MasterCard (NYSE: MA - news) , General Electric (NYSE: GE - news) , Standard Chartered (Other OTC: SCBFF.PK - news) , Coca-Cola and Visa.

Matthew Driver, MasterCard’s south-east Asian president, said: “Because it has been in isolation for so long it will take time to catch up. To put it in perspective it has about 80 or 90 ATMs compared with Thailand which has a similar sized population but around 60,000 ATMs.”

He added: “There’s going to be a high demand for expats. It’s very clear there’s a desire for assistance ranging from consulting and law firms through to those dealing with infrastructure and funding.”

Sectors likely to see the lion’s share of jobs and investments in the early stages of Burma’s liberalisation include construction, banking and financial services, retail, telecoms and tourism.

Only 10 per cent of Burma’s population have bank accounts, presenting a huge potential customer base for foreign banks. A young, cheap workforce also makes the country appealing for manufacturers.

Sumana Rajarethnam, senior analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit, said: “Burma’s recent opening-up means that for the first time in more than 50 years foreigners can see the country for themselves and visit without being accused by the junta’s critics of profiting from the regime. The potential for catch-up growth is therefore immense.”

Companies he expects to benefit include budget, boutique and luxury hotels along with low-cost airlines and the eco-tourism industry.

Singapore-based Briton Damian Hutchinson said he was excited there was a new country in Asia on the radar for adventurous expats.

He said: “Because there is still a political risk with the new government and Burma being the great unknown, it would appeal to younger expats without families who can quickly move in and out if need be.”