Myanmar promises to clean up mining sector

Australia has hailed Myanmar’s (Burma) bid to boost transparency in its mining sector, with the federal government keen to ramp up trade and investment with the emerging economy.

Myanmar’s application to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative – a voluntary code to encourage governments to be accountable for their country’s resource revenues – has been accepted.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who is in Myanmar on her first official visit, said it was a positive sign of reform in a country awash with natural resources but plagued by widespread poverty.

But she warned that broader economic reforms – including a stable financial and banking sector – would be needed before Myanmar could attract the foreign investment it desired.

“It’s obviously going to be a challenging process,” she told AAP by phone from Naypyidaw.

“There are other reforms that need to take place in this country before global capital will naturally come here.”

Despite the major political, social and economic reforms promised by the former military junta in 2011, doing business in Myanmar remains fraught with complications.

Australia still enforces an arms embargo on Myanmar, and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade warns potential investors that the military still exerts influence over large parts of the economy.

But the government is keen to develop its nascent trade ties with the newly-emerging regional player.

An Austrade office opened in Yangon (Rangoon) last year, and Ms Bishop chaired a roundtable of Australian businesses in Myanmar’s financial capital just this week.

Myanmar has been keen to open up its vast oil, gas and mineral reserves to foreign investment, with Australian mining ventures among those showing early interest.

Ms Bishop foresees Australia’s mining giants offering skills and expertise as Myanmar’s own resource sector evolves.

Australia played a key role encouraging Myanmar to adopt the transparency standard, hosting the EITI conference in Sydney last year where the country’s finance minister pledged support for the scheme.

When implemented, Myanmar must disclose how its resource revenues are spent in a bid to stymie the corruption that prevented the mineral wealth trickling down to its people.

Myanmar remains the poorest country in Southeast Asia and a major recipient of Australian foreign aid, languishing near the bottom of the United Nation’s human development index.

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