Brand owners target Myanmar

19 November 2012

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar: Major brand owners from MasterCard and General Electric to PepsiCo and Coca-Cola are enhancing their presence in Myanmar, a market now opening up to foreign firms.

MasterCard has become the first global payment network to give a licence to a bank in the Asian nation, alongside announcing wider goals related to training and best practice.

Matthew Driver, its division president, Southeast Asia, told Campaign Asia: "We have a responsibility to educate banks, merchants and consumers to ensure we are facilitating the right kind of behaviour in the market, that standards for security are met and consumers have a positive experience."

The holding of elections this year, albeit for just 45 of 664 seats in parliament, constituted a loosening of political restrictions in Myanmar, as the opposition National League for Democracy won 43 seats in all.

Such a process also encouraged Australia, the European Union and US to relax investment and trade sanctions on the country, which has a 60m population, skewed towards younger demographics.

Having ceased trading in Myanmar in 1997, PepsiCo announced in August that it will form a distribution tie-up with indigenous firm Diamond Star. It laid out more ambitious plans for the market last week.

"We want to establish local production," Saad Abdul-Latif, chief executive of PepsiCo Asia, Middle East and Africa, said, as reported by Reuters. "We will be signing that within the next year or so."

Coca-Cola made its first deliveries to Myanmar for six decades in September 2012, while Nestlé, the food group, had retained limited operations there due to softer sanctions from the Swiss government.

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the accountancy network, also recently established an office in the country, with rival KPMG already having done so.

"Demand is outstripping supply," Ong Chao Choon, managing director, assurance and advisory services, for PwC Myanmar, told the Financial Times. "It's actually when regulation is still in infancy that an international firm like us can make the most contribution – to the country and our clients."

Similarly, Stuart Dean, the local chief executive of GE, the conglomerate, stated earlier this year that it was seeking an "early mover advantage", having signed two power generation deals.

"We are not going to wait for full rule of law before we enter Myanmar; would we prefer to do business in countries that do have rule of law? Yes, but it's not going to stop us," he said. "Myanmar will not be an easy place to do business initially but we see it as a long-term opportunity."

Data sourced from Campaign Asia, Reuters, Financial Times; additional content by Warc staff