Friday, May 29, 2009

Irrawaddy News Weekly Business Roundup - May 29, 2009

The Irrawaddy News

Trade Unions Pressure Chevron on Burma

Two American trade unions backed by a several human rights groups have attempted to force US oil giant Chevron to justify its continued involvement with the “pariah military regime” of Burma.

The teamsters’ and AFL-CIO unions sought to press a vote at Chevron’s annual shareholders’ meeting in California on Wednesday to disclose business dealings in Burma, where it has a stake in the Yadana gas field.

The disclosure bid, which garnered 25 percent of the vote but failed to pass, questioned the Chevron management’s political risk assessment criteria.

“We’re pleased that other Chevron shareholders recognize the enormous legal, financial, political and reputational risks associated with operating in Burma,” said teamsters’ general-secretary Thomas Keegel after the vote.

“The Burmese military junta is one of Chevron's partners in Yadana through its military-run oil company, Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise.

That makes Chevron business partners with a pariah military regime that has brutally dominated the people of Burma and that has put a Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Aung San Suu Kyi, under house arrest.”

Chevron, which has a 28 percent share in the Yadana field, managed by France’s Total, says it will not quit Burma, despite pressure also from the US Congress.

The Californian company insists that its business presence in Burma benefits ordinary people.

China’s Green Policy Stops at Border where River Changes Name

A Chinese state-owned company is pressing ahead with a project to build a large dam on the Salween River in Burma—after the Beijing government ordered a halt to similar projects along the same river in China.

Praise has been lavished on China’s Pemier Wen Jiabao for suspending dam work on the upper reaches of the Nujiang River, reportedly over environmental concerns.

But those concerns appear to evaporate after the 3,240-kilometer river from the foothills of the Himalayas crosses into Burma.

The Chinese Sinohydro Corporation construction company is still moving ahead with a 1,200-megawatt hydroelectric dam scheme on the same river at Hatgyi in Karen State.

In Burma, the river is called the Salween and the military regime is unconcerned about the environment. Chinese and Thai government state agencies are involved in the Hatgyi project.

Environmentalists say the concerns now apparently preoccupying government officials across the border in China do not apply in Burma, where a number of controversial dams are proposed.

“All of the dams planned on the Salween River will greatly disrupt the riverine ecosystem and destroy the livelihoods of those peoples living along the river,” says the NGO Burma Rivers Network. “Large areas of land…will be flooded. Those living along the river will be forcibly relocated, likely without compensation.”

Most of the electricity from the Hatgyi project is earmarked for Thailand.

Burma, Bangladesh Discuss Improved Sea Links to Boost Trade

Burma and Bangladesh are attempting to improve trade and cooperation in the Arakan coastal region border area between the two countries.

Proposals for agricultural fertilizer factories, hydroelectric schemes and commercial coastal traffic between Chittagong and Sittwe were discussed at a ministerial level meeting, according to Bangladeshi media reports.

The two sides talked about ways of boosting the value of bilateral trade more than 300 percent—from US $140 million a year in 2008 to US $500 million in 2010.

The proposals, between a Bangladeshi delegation led by Foreign Minister Dipu Moni and several of Burma’s military leaders, including energy minister Gen Lun Thi, came despite friction in other relations between the two countries.

The issue of sea territory boundaries between the two countries in the Bay of Bengal remains unresolved, and Dhaka is expected to refer that issue to the United Nations for arbitration.

Both sides claim areas believed to harbor lucrative undersea natural gas deposits.

New Cyclone Hits Fishing, Rice Industries

Cyclone damage in Burma’s Arakan State has damaged coastal shrimp farms and agricultural crops while other farming communities are still trying to recover from last year’s Cyclone Nargis.

Cyclone Aila earlier this week ripped through coastal areas on both sides of the border between Burma and Bangladesh.

Hundreds of flimsy built houses have been destroyed and fishing and shrimp farming businesses badly dislocated, according to the Kaladan news agency.

The cost of damage has not yet been assessed. Reports from Arakan say the authorities had made little or no preparation for this year’s cyclone season.

Burma’s fishing and rice industries are still struggling to recover from the devastation wreaked by Nargis one year ago.

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