Myanmar inks oil deals with foreign firms

Myanmar has signed a raft of oil exploration deals with foreign companies, state media reported Wednesday, as the reformist government seeks overseas investment to spur economic development.

State-owned Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise has inked nine agreements since early March to allow firms from Asia and Europe to explore for oil and natural gas, the Myanmar Ahlin newspaper reported.

"It was the first time in the history of Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise to sign nine agreements within such a short period," the report said, without giving financial details.

"More significantly, Myanmar national companies were involved in all nine agreements as partners," it added.

The firms are EPI Holdings of Hong Kong, Geopetro International Holding of Switzerland, Petronas of Malaysia, Jubilant Energy of India, PTTEP of Thailand, Istech Energy of Indonesia and CIS Nobel Oil of Russia.

The report said the energy ministry had decided in principle to grant licences to foreign companies to invest in Myanmar only if they cooperate with domestically owned firms.

It said 10 foreign companies were exploring for oil at 24 offshore energy fields, while eight overseas firms -- as well as seven joint ventures with local companies -- were exploring 20 inland fields.

"Many companies are contacting Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise to explore for oil and natural gas by investing at other inland and offshore fields," it said.

Myanmar's reform-minded President Thein Sein said in a televised speech on Tuesday that economic development would be at the centre of his next phase of reforms, which aim to boost the role of the private sector.

Critics say the rewards of the nation's energy bounty have so far been shared among foreign investors and the regime, rather than its impoverished people.

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