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Myanmar military launches investor charm offensive
by Staff Writers
Yangon (AFP) Nov 06, 2013

Britain, S. Korea pledge to boost trade ties
London (AFP) Nov 06, 2013 - Britain and South Korea pledged Wednesday to boost commercial ties in everything from nuclear power to financial services as President Park Geun-Hye paid a state visit to London.

Prime Minister David Cameron hosted the president for talks at Downing Street on the second day of her trip, where he also reaffirmed his support for South Korea in its dealings with its northern neighbour.

Bilateral trade between London and Seoul has increased rapidly since the EU-South Korean free trade agreement came into effect in 2011, and was worth 7.7 billion (9.2 billion euros, $12.4 billion) in goods alone in 2012.

Korean companies such as Samsung, LG and Hyundai have long been household names in Britain and officials now see South Korea as a major growth area for British firms, particularly those involved in engineering, pharmaceuticals and beverages.

The two countries agreed on Wednesday to double trade and foreign direct investment by 2020, based on 2011 levels.

Britain is the top destination for Korean investment in Europe while South Korea is the 16th largest market for British exports worldwide, officials said.

Speaking ahead of talks with Cameron, Park welcomed the target of doubling trade and said the two leaders had discussed the situation in North Korea.

She said: "The prime minister and I ... shared the view about the gravity and seriousness of North Korea's nuclear weapons challenge as well as the human rights situation in North Korea and have agreed to work together in these areas as well.

"The prime minister has kindly expressed his support for a trust-building initiative in north-east Asia as well as the north-east Asia peace and co-operation initiative."

Park has been treated to a full display of British pomp and ceremony on her three-day trip, which began on Tuesday with a ride with Queen Elizabeth II in a horse-drawn carriage to Buckingham Palace.

She also joined Prince William, the second in line to the throne, to break the ground on a memorial dedicated to British soldiers killed in the 1950-53 Korean war.

The Myanmar military's secretive business empire made a rare foray into the public spotlight on Wednesday, seeking to reassure foreign investors over their treatment in the former junta-ruled country.

The unusual step out of the shadows by Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd (MEHL) came as the sprawling mining-to-brewing conglomerate announced it had begun arbitration proceedings against Singapore-based food and beverage giant Fraser & Neave (F&N).

The row centres on MEHL's bid to buy F&N's 55-percent stake in their joint venture Myanmar Brewery Limited (MBL).

MEHL said F&N had defaulted on a term in their joint venture deal after a change in the ownership structure following the Singapore group's takeover by Thai billionaire Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi earlier this year.

It said it decided to speak out in response to media reports painting the dispute as a "test case" for Myanmar's investment laws.

MEHL, which was built by Myanmar's generals during their decades of iron-fisted rule, said the arbitration move "is not about the investment laws in Myanmar or how foreign investors are treated in the country".

"We believe that allowing parties to exercise their contractual rights, including the right to arbitrate a dispute, will strengthen and not weaken foreign investors' confidence in Myanmar," MEHL deputy managing director Myint Aung said in the statement.

"We know it will serve the interest of some parties to politicise the dispute but doing so does no justice to the case or to anyone interested in investing in Myanmar."

Foreign investors are flocking to Myanmar following the end of junta rule in 2011, lured by the country's abundant natural resources, untapped consumer markets and low-paid workforce.

The lifting of most Western economic sanctions has attracted international businesses, including Ford and Coca-Cola.

But experts say an opaque legal framework is one of a number of major challenges facing businesses entering the once-reclusive nation.

In an attempt to address their concerns, the country's reformist President Thein Sein last year signed into law an eagerly awaited foreign investment bill.

The former general has vowed to put the economy at the centre of a second wave of reforms, following dramatic political changes including the election of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to parliament.


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