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Foreign firms in Myanmar face tough choices after coup

YANGON (CNA) – Investors flocked to Myanmar after the military relaxed its iron grip in 2011, paving the way for democratic reforms and economic liberalisation in the country of over 50 million people.

But human rights groups have pressed foreign companies to rethink their activities in Myanmar following the February 2021 coup and a subsequent crackdown which, according to local monitoring groups, left over 1,500 people dead.

The United States (US) government last month warned companies worldwide that doing business with Yangon ran “the risk of engaging in conduct that may expose them to significant reputational, financial and legal risks”.

Investors and traders were warned specifically to avoid state-owned enterprises, the gems and precious metals sector, real estate and construction projects, and the arms business.

Energy giants TotalEnergies and Chevron said last month they would leave their partnership with a military-backed firm operating a gas field in the Andaman Sea following pressure from human rights groups.

Human Rights Watch said natural gas projects are Myanmar’s single largest source of foreign currency revenue, generating over USD1 billion every year.

TotalEnergies paid over USD400 million in total to the Myanmar authorities in 2019 and 2020 in the form of taxes and “production rights”.

Australian energy firm Woodside followed soon after, blaming “the deteriorating human rights situation” as part of the reason for the move, which will cost the company at least  USD200 million.

TotalEnergies and other companies have been under pressure from human rights groups to cut financial ties with Myanmar’s junta. PHOTO: AFP