Myanmar invites investment in mining industry

Myanmar on Monday invited foreign firms to invest in its mining sector, in the latest step to open up its economy after decades of isolation from the West.

"For investors who would like to do exploration to confirm the reserve of a deposit or to start with the grassroots exploration operations in a virgin land, they may apply accordingly clearly stating their intentions," Win Htein, a top official at the Ministry of Mines, told a conference in Yangon.

"Funds required to conduct the prospecting, exploration and feasibility study are borne by the investor 100 percent at his own risk," he told an audience of about 300 delegates from 26 countries.

President Thein Sein has vowed to put the economy at the centre of his next wave of reforms, following a series of dramatic political changes since decades of military rule ended last year.

With Western nations now rolling back sanctions, interest from foreign firms is growing.

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.

Seven foreign companies, from Australia, China, Russia, Thailand and Vietnam, already have mining operations, in zinc, iron, gold and other metals, the conference heard.

As the exportation of ores is not allowed, the government is encouraging firms to set up mineral processing plants and export the product, Win Htein said.

But gemstones are one area where foreign investors are not allowed to invest in mining, he said. Instead they can buy the stones from the government gem emporium for export.

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