After breaking from decades of military rule, Myanmar's parliament ratified legislation promoting foreign investment on Friday, opening the southeast Asian country to investment from companies including MasterCard Inc. (NYSE: MA), the Coca-Cola Company (NYSE: KO) and General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE).
The final law removed earlier provisions that would have put additional limits on foreign entities after President Thein Sein opposed protectionist provisions from Myanmar's Lower House that were supported by local businesses. Under the legislation, foreign companies are allowed to hold 50 percent in local joint ventures, more than the 49 percent initially proposed. It also didn't include a provision for minimum foreign investments of $5 million.
Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has a large, but poor, population of 64 million people, but it also has potential riches due to resources like precious metals and oil. Its location between China and India is also cited as a competitive advantage.
President Barack Obama allowed U.S. companies to invest in Myanmar in July for the first time in approximately 15 years, prompting American icons to make moves. Purchase, N.Y.-based MasterCard gave a license to Myanmar's Co-Operative Bank Ltd. on Wednesday. Rival Visa Inc. (NYSE: V) is also preparing to enter the market.
Schenectady, N.Y.-based GE signed deals in July to provide $2 million in X-ray machines and other medical supplies to local hospitals in Yangon, the country's biggest city. Atlanta-based Coca-Cola said in June that it was planning to make "significant investments" in Myanmar over the next three to five years. The soda giant operates in every other country, excluding Cuba and North Korea.
The Asian Development Bank said in August that Myanmar's economy could grow up to 8 percent per year if it was able to attract foreign investment. Foreign investment in Myanmar totaled $3.8 billion between 2005 and 2010, according to the ADB.
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