U.S. gives banking green light to Myanmar tycoons
Two banks owned by tycoons associated with Myanmar's former military regime will start to do business with U.S. companies and investors in the latest reward for the Southeast Asian country's rapid political transformation.
The U.S. Treasury Department said on Friday it would issue a general licence for four of Myanmar's biggest banks - Myanma Economic Bank, Myanma Investment and Commercial Bank, Asia Green Development Bank and Ayeyarwady Bank - allowing U.S companies and citizens to deal with them.
The easing of sanctions on Asia Green Development Bank and Ayeyarwady Bank underlines how politically-connected capitalists of the old regime - whom the U.S. once castigated - are re-inventing themselves and retaining a strong foothold as foreign investors race to enter the country.
It helps remove uncertainty among U.S. companies over lingering restrictions on their dealings in Myanmar and is expected to increase the domestic reach of U.S. credit card firms Visa and MasterCard.
The decision was announced ahead of a visit to Myanmar by 50 U.S. executives on Monday to explore opportunities in the resource-rich nation, the latest sign of burgeoning foreign corporate interest in the country of 60 million.
Washington eased sanctions last July to allow U.S. companies to invest in and provide financial services to Myanmar, dropping restrictions on dealing with most Myanmar banks.
Sean Turnell, an expert on Myanmar's economy at Australia's Macquarie University, said the latest move was significant because it would normalise the flow of international funds in and out of Myanmar. But he said the inclusion of formerly blacklisted Ayeyarwady Bank and Asia Green Development Bank was a surprise given previous U.S. assurances that they "still had their eye on the worst offenders of the past regime."
"One of the great anxieties is over the cronyisation of the economy - the fear it will be a fleeting summer and become like Russia," Turnell added.
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