Norwegian mobile operator Telenor is considering investing in the telecommunications sector, less than two weeks after Norway lifted some of its sanctions against Myanmar.
Mr Sigve Brekke, a member of Telenor’s Executive Management Committee, accompanied Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store on his two-day visit to Myanmar and also took part in the roundtable discussion with U Soe Thein, chairman of the Myanmar Investment Commission, in Yangon on January 26.
“I have a delegation of Norwegian Telenor, which operates mobile telecommunication in Bangladesh, India and Thailand. They have already seriously studied opportunities in Myanmar. That’s a great opportunity for Myanmar’s development [for Telenor] to invest in telecommunication. That’s an important driver of change,” the foreign minister told journalists following a one-hour discussion at Traders Hotel in Yangon.
The previous day, Mr Store met President U Thein Sein in Nay Pyi Taw and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi at her house in Yangon.
Norway announced it would lift sanctions against Myanmar after the government released more than 600 prisoners, including a large number of prominent activists, in an amnesty on January 13.
“I come from a country that is ready to stand up and support the transformation of Myanmar. The progress is irreversible and fragile so it is the responsibility of friends in the outside world to come to Myanmar and support [reform]. My message is that the process of reform should continue,” he said.
Norway is ready to share its experience and resources to ensure that efforts toward economic reform, industrial reform, job creation and peace and reconciliation between groups inside Myanmar are successful, Mr Store said.
“We today encourage Norwegian industries and services to engage in Myanmar. They have to make their own choice,” he said.
“Myanmar has to have its own plan and strategy to make sense of that assistance.”
He also said it was “absolutely critical” that the April 1 by-elections were free, fair and transparent. If that occurred, sanctions would likely be lifted completely, he said.
U Soe Thein, who is also Minister for Industry, told the Norwegian foreign minister that the elections would be free and fair. He said the government was doing its best to meet the demands of the international community.
“As chairman of the investment commission I must protect investors and don’t want to change policies again and again. I am also taking care of the environment and social impacts. The profit is the second priority,” said U Soe Thein.
The Telenor boss Mr Sigve Brekke said at the roundtable that Myanmar needed to improve its investment regulations and framework to attract more foreign companies.
“You need to be [focused on the] long term [benefits] not a quick win. You need to be in a partnership with local investors or another type of partnership,” Mr Brekke said.
The Oslo-based mobile company started investing in Asia 15 years ago and, according to Wikipedia, Telenor is one of the largest mobile phone operators in the world, with 203 million subscribers at the end of 2010.