RANGOON — The first ever British Chamber of Commerce has been registered to work in Burma, in a move the UK hopes will assist companies from the former colonial power looking to set up operations here.
The body, which will work with the local Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce (UMFCCI), was launched in Rangoon on Wednesday, making Britain the first European nation to open a chamber of commerce after the European Union lifted economic sanctions against Burma in 2013.
The British Embassy in Rangoon said in a statement that the UK government was funding the establishment of the chamber to “support responsible, sustainable and transparent investment in Burma.”
“We aim to ensure that the chamber is a dynamic, inclusive business group that reflects the membership’s needs and adds value for companies operating in Myanmar,” British Chamber of Commerce Myanmar President Anthony Picon—who is the managing director of real estate firm Colliers International’s Burma office—said at the launch.
“We are encouraging Myanmar companies to get involved in the chamber to make connections with international businesses and to help keep them informed of business trends worldwide.”
The body is getting major support from four British companies dubbed its “founding patrons”—oil and gas firm BG Group, conglomerate Jardine Matheson, insurer Prudential and Standard Chartered Bank. It is also sponsored by power generation company Aggreko, British American Tobacco, oil giant Shell and law firms Herbert Smith Freehills and Stephenson Harwood, according to the embassy.
“The chamber will support both the existing business community in Burma but also help new market entrants identify the opportunities in Burma and navigate the challenges of establishing a business here,” the embassy’s statement said.
The chamber’s executive director, Stephanie Ashmore, said that the body had been registered with Burma’s Directorate of Investment and Companies Administration since last month. There are 86 founding members, including UK-based companies, about 10 local firms and businesses from third countries, she said.
“If [more] companies want to join with us, we’ll check the company’s reputation to be part of the membership,” she said.
Between 30 and 40 British companies have set up offices in Burma in the past 18 months, according to Lisa Weedon, head of UK Trade and Investment in Burma.
According to the embassy’s figures, Burma imported goods from the UK worth US$75 million in 2013, up from just $22 million in 2012. Exports to the UK increased from $75 million in 2012 to $111 million in 2013.
UMFCCI Vice-Chairman Maung Maung Lay said he expected that the relatively small level of trade between Britain and Burma would “gradually increase.”
“This is becoming reality, they are not working in an imaginary world,” he said. “They just don’t know yet where the main business opportunities are in Burma. We only just understand each other now.”