Myanmar’s Upcoming New Companies Act and Revised Foreign Investment Law

 

Myanmar’s Upcoming New Companies Act and Revised Foreign Investment Law

Since sanctions were lifted in 2012, economic growth in Myanmar has been on a steady rise in no small part to foreign direct investment which rose to US $8 billion in 2014, double the previous year’s total. The more lenient and liberal investment regulations enacted by the Myanmar government over the past few years have only encouraged further growth. The forthcoming reformation of the antiquated Companies Act of 1914 and changes to Foreign Investment Act of 2012 indicate that this trend will most likely continue.

The Companies Act of 1914 has been in dire need of revision for many years, but this issue has been brought to the forefront with the opening of Myanmar’s economy for foreign investment. The Companies Act is currently being revised by the Directorate of Investment and Company Administration (DICA) with assistance from the Asian Development Bank. These organizations plan to modernize the Companies Act by overhauling the regulations regarding the formation and management of companies in Myanmar. All of this is being done with the hopes that it will spur economic development and investment, as well as provide sound and familiar legal principles for companies to abide by.

The DICA released a public briefing paper which outlines the goals of the new legislation and states that the new law will be based in part on corporate law regimes utilized by other common law states, such as Singapore, the United Kingdom, and Australia. The drafters of the new Act plan to adopt a regulatory approach that leaves the responsibility of compliance on companies and empowers the DICA as the regulatory body playing an audit role. The Act will also provide stakeholders with methods to safeguard their interests and specifically outlines the rules and policies concerning incorporation and administration. Currently, there are few guidelines for companies to follow and incorporation and administration procedures are administered on a case-by-case basis at the discretion of the applicable government agency. Combining DICA auditing with the proposed system that relies on companies taking on the responsibility of compliance could lead to better corporate practices. But as a state with historic enforcement and corruption problems, Myanmar could fall short of its enforcement responsibilities. Also, ensuring corporate governance compliance will depend on the effectiveness of the DICA audits.

By enacting investment and corporate legislation similar to that of other common law nations, Myanmar’s policymakers appear to be committed to moving their nation into the modern business world. The DICA plans to modernize company formation and management and significantly revise the corporate governance structure. The DICA is focusing on several areas for reform including clarifying company registration requirements and improving registration procedures, modernizing the management and administration of companies, and strengthening the corporate governance of companies. Of note is that the distinction between a foreign and local company will only remain for identification purposes. This seems to indicate that there will no longer be discrimination between foreign and domestic companies by the government in Myanmar. Other new additions to corporate policy include strengthening corporate governance by expressly stating directors’ duties, updating financial reporting and audit requirements, implementing protections for minority shareholders, and regulating related party transactions. The new Companies Act will explicitly detail the duties of corporate directors which include a duty to avoid conflicts, a fiduciary duty to the company, and duty of care. The DICA also seems committed to promoting transparency by creating a public registry for companies that will include information on the directors, shareholder details, share capital details, registered securities, and all statutory filings.

A significant source of unease for foreign investors and companies attempting to do business in Myanmar comes from potential investment insecurity. The question is if the planned DICA company audits for corporate compliance will be effective; nevertheless, new disclosure and transparency laws may give foreign investors and companies more insight into the risks in order to better evaluate the situation. Disclosure and transparency are much touted by global regulatory bodies, so they may be deciding factors concerning investment. If companies and investors are able to accurately assess risks, investment and economic growth should rise.

In November 2012, Myanmar enacted a new Foreign Investment Law, a business friendly investment law designed to attract foreign direct investment into the country and create a favorable investment climate. Under it, different business types were expanded and developed to include natural resource extraction and export, human resource development, banking and finance, infrastructure (roads, highways, and utilities), high technology, communications, and transportation (rail, water and air). Under the Act, any investment in Myanmar can be up to 100% foreign-owned and overseas firms are allowed to fully own joint ventures. Foreign investors get five-year tax holidays, and manufacturing companies may be entitled to tax relief of up to 50% on profits made from exports. Foreign investors can also take advantage of fifty-year land leases that can be extended for another twenty years. The Act also opened restricted sectors to foreign investors.

The Myanmar government is currently drafting a new foreign investment law which will consolidate and replace the Foreign Investment Law of 2012 and the Myanmar Citizens Investment Law of 2013. According to a draft of the new law, the Myanmar Investment Commission will be restructured and become an autonomous agency with perpetual succession. There will no longer be any distinction between foreign and domestic investors, except in certain instances. A foreign investor will be treated like a domestic investor in respect to company establishment, acquisitions, expansion, management, conduct, operations, and sales. Except for restrictions to invest in sensitive sectors, any investor, foreign or domestic, will be able to invest in any legitimate form of enterprise in any economic sector. The new act defines a foreign investor as a person who is not a citizen of Myanmar, a legal entity incorporated in a foreign jurisdiction, or a legal entity incorporated in Myanmar, but considered a foreign company under the Companies Act. This definition may change due to provisions in the upcoming Companies Act reformation.

Especially important to employers will be the new section on employment which will allow investors to employ qualified persons of any nationality to fill senior management, technical, professional, and advisory positions. There will no longer be a quota for local skilled labor. The fifty-year land leases that can be extended for two 10-year periods from the previous investment law will also be included in the new law. The rules on the remittance of funds out of Myanmar are also being relaxed for investors and expatriate employees with work permits.

Myanmar was once one of the richest states in Southeast Asia, but over the past fifty years its economy has stagnated. More foreign investment and interest would be advantageous for Myanmar with its large labor force and substantial natural resources, but Myanmar has yet to live up to its potential. Instability, sanctions, human rights problems, and corruption along with an underdeveloped infrastructure, labor issues, and an inadequate power supply have all contributed to making foreign investors and corporations wary of doing business in Myanmar. The recent efforts to reform the Companies Act and restructure and consolidate the Foreign Investment Law are needed changes in order for Myanmar to flourish. However, it is still up the Myanmar government to effectively enact and enforce the new legislation. Nonetheless, there have been significant positive changes in recent years. Currently, Myanmar is feeling the welcome effects of investor interest with foreign direct investment growing at a rapid rate. The upcoming revisions to Myanmar’s company and investment law will hopefully further open the doors to foreign investment and better corporate practices.

 

Disclaimer: All material provided here by Dej-Udom & Associates is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice from this law firm nor any of its attorneys. It was compiled from multiple sources, and while every effort has been made to verify the material, a country’s laws and regulations can change suddenly with no notice. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, please obtain professional advice from a qualified lawyer in the respective country.

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