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Myanmar privatising state enterprises; Asian companies expected to show interest

A flurry of privatisations of key state enterprises in Myanmar is raising speculation about whether the country’s military regime is planning more market reform or simply trying to cash out before an election expected later this year.

The ruling junta plans to sell a number of major assets, including a network of 250 state-owned gas stations, and ports handling a large percentage of the country’s trade, according to local industry officials and Reuters. It is also planning to sell factories, cinemas and warehouses, and may be contemplating a sale of the country’s international airline, among other assets.

Buyers of the newly privatised assets are expected to be mostly local companies, according to Maung Maung Lay, Secretary-General of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry. US companies are, for the most part, prohibited from operating in Myanmar because of sanctions against the regime, which is accused of an array of human-rights violations. But other investors, especially in Asia, may seek to play a role.

Asian companies have entered a number of joint ventures with Myanmar’s rulers over the years and are keen to expand in the country because of its vast natural resources and potential consumer market of 50 million people.