Coca-Cola Announces Will Return to Myanmar After 60 Years

Coca-Cola Co. (KO) plans to return to Myanmar for the first time in more than 60 years, leaving Cuba and North Korea as the only nations where the maker of the world’s most popular soft drink doesn't do business.

The company will start operating in Myanmar as soon as the U.S. government issues a license allowing investments in the Southeast Asian country, a move that may be “imminent,” the Atlanta-based company said in a statement distributed by Businesswire yesterday.

Myanmar is enhancing economic, military and political ties with Western nations after years of isolation that left its 64 million people among Asia’s poorest. The country’s transition to democracy in recent months after about five decades of military rule prompted the U.S. to ease sanctions in May.

“Coca-Cola’s planned entry into Myanmar, following the suspension of sanctions, will be governed by its well- established global standards for corporate ethics including strict adherence to its global human and workplace rights policy, supplier guiding principles, code of business conduct, and anti-bribery policies,” the company said in the statement.

Coca-Cola will initially import some products from neighboring countries before “making significant investments in Myanmar over the next three-five years,” the company said, adding it will work with local partners to support the country’s long-term economic development.

Cuba, North Korea

Coca-Cola has grown from selling nine drinks a day in a single country in 1886 to distributing 1.8 billion beverages in more than 200 nations, according to data posted on its website. Myanmar, Cuba and North Korea are the only countries where Coca- Cola doesn’t operate, the company said yesterday. Coca-Cola says the 1971-vintage advertisement entitled “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” remains one of its most popular.

PepsiCo Inc. (PEP), the world’s second-largest soft-drink maker, pulled out of Myanmar in 1997 after shareholder groups and activists urged the company to sever ties with the military dictatorship because of human-rights violations. Heineken NV, the world’s third-biggest brewer, withdrew in 1996.

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi earlier this month warned investors against “reckless optimism” in the country’s move toward democracy. In a speech in Bangkok, her first outside Myanmar in 24 years, Suu Kyi called job creation her top priority and called for “healthy skepticism” of Myanmar’s reform process.

London-based WPP Plc (WPP), the world’s biggest advertising company, and Tata Motors Ltd. (TTMT), India’s biggest automaker, have announced moves to expand in Myanmar in recent months, while General Electric Co. and Honda Motor Co. (7267) are among other companies considering investing in the nation. Myanmar is “set for economic takeoff” if it implements the right policies, the International Monetary Fund said last month.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tony Jordan in Bangkok at tjordan3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Lars Klemming at lklemming@bloomberg.net

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