Myanmar to Allow Foreign Investment, Tourist Use of ATMs

The new law passed by parliament, which allows overseas firms to own ventures and offer tax breaks and lengthy land leases, indicates a transition from military rule.

YANGON, Myanmar - An indication of Myanmar's transition from military rule is a new law passed by parliament which allows overseas firms to own ventures and offers tax breaks and lengthy land leases, state media said Saturday.

The law had gone back and forth between the legislative and executive branches since March in a tussle involving a government eager to attract foreign investment, tycoons determined to protect their monopolies, and small businesses keen not to be shut out.

Myanmar's president, Thein Sein, took office in March, 2011, at the head of a quasi-civilian government that brought almost 50 years of military rule to an end.

He has undertaken economic and political reforms that have persuaded Western countries to suspend sanctions and prompted an upsurge of interest in the country from multinational firms, which see potential in Myanmar's abundant resources and a primitive, low-cost economy bordering India and China.

Most major firms have been waiting to see the new law before committing significant funds

In a related development, officials in Myanmar say three private banks have signed agreements with Visa Inc. to enable international travelers to use credit cards and withdraw cash from ATM machines by January.

Until recently, foreign visitors were barred from using credit cards in the Southeast Asian nation because of financial sanctions imposed by the U.S. and EU to punish the former military regime.

Those restrictions were lifted earlier this year after democratic reforms, and some businesses have already begun accepting credit cards.

Than Lwin, deputy chairman of Kanbawza Bank, says the deal was agreed between Visa and his bank as well as two others - Cooperative Bank and Myanmar Oriental Bank.

He called the agreement "a milestone" that will boost the tourism industry in particular.