Standard Chartered Seeks Myanmar Return, Sees Sanctions Ending

Standard Chartered Plc (STAN), the U.K. bank that earns more than two-thirds of its profit in Asia, seeks to return to Myanmar (IGRPMMR) once the U.S. and Britain end sanctions against the country, which the lender says may happen this year.

“We used to be in Burma for a long time, and we’ll be very happy to get back there,” Jaspal Bindra, the bank’s chief executive officer for Asia, said at a meeting with journalists in Hong Kong today. “If I was a betting man, I would say in 2012 Burma will be off the sanctions list.”

Like North Korea, the only other Asian market where Standard Chartered doesn’t operate, Myanmar remains largely disconnected from international commerce. U.S. measures against the country formerly known as Burma have been tightening since 1988, when President Ronald Reagan suspended aid and banned arms sales after soldiers killed about 3,000 student protesters.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last month became the highest-level U.S. official to visit Myanmar in more than five decades as the country moved to release political prisoners. Clinton pledged to upgrade relations if the government takes further steps to ease repression.

Myanmar’s citizens earn an estimated $2.20 per day on average, about one-seventh of the per capita income in neighboring Thailand, according to International Monetary Fund statistics. The country was ranked third-worst in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index published last month, trailed only by North Korea and Somalia.

Natural gas output almost quadrupled in the past decade to 12.1 billion cubic meters in 2010, according to the BP Statistical Review. Italian-Thai Development Pcl, Thailand’s biggest construction company, signed an $8.6-billion contract in 2010 with Myanmar’s government to build a deep-sea port and industrial park.

Headquarters Location

The bank’s board is looking “all the time” at whether it should move its headquarters from London in response to “pressure” from stakeholders, Bindra said.

“It’s not a decision you take lightly” because a decision about locating a headquarters requires a timeframe of 50-100 years, Bindra said. “And it’s very difficult to predict which part of the world will be worse off or better off in the next 50 to 100 years.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephanie Tong in Hong Kong at stong17@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chitra Somayaji at csomayaji@bloomberg.net

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