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M'sia must see Burma as rival for FDI

What Burmese Opposition Leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party got in the April 1, 2012 by-election maybe a small win but it's still a significant victory for the people of Burma.

Winning 43 of the 44 seats contested is a good start to see reformation taking a step further in the country.

And if her party wins big in the next general election in 2015, she will see to it that the people enjoys human rights, freedom and true democracy besides taking the nation out of economic poverty.

This is only three years away and after 15 years under house arrest - it is no big deal.

Right now, the removal of sanctions will attract more foreign investors to set up factories, plants and businesses in the country, and take advantage of the abundance of cheap labour in the region.

And, with a population of 60 million people and high unemployment, employers can easily find workers who are willing to work for only US$100 monthly.

Cheap labour and large human resources will certainly divert foreign investors to Burma who would otherwise be investing in Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand or Indonesia.

Particularly at a time when Malaysia has just approved a minimum wage of RM800 for workers working in estates, farms and factories, among other small businesses in the country.

This works out to about US$250-270. Though it is not much comparing to what our neighbouring countries pay their workers, it is still expensive when employers can pay less in Burma.

Already there are foreign investors flocking to Burma to evaluate the feasibility and viability of relocating some of their overseas investments and businesses into the country, in view of the availability of attractive cheap labour and the abundance of human resources.

And with the lifting of sanctions, many foreign investors will consider setting new business ventures there as well.

This is a disadvantage to many nations, like Malaysia, for instance, which are trying hard to bring foreign investments into the country.

Now, that there is aggressive competition in the region, the international trade and industry minister to tell us what will his ministry do to hold on to all our existing foreign investors and businesses to remain in the country, as well as how to lure new ones to invest here in Malaysia.

Of course, the Human Resources Minister S Subramaniam could liaise with the International Trade and Industry Minister Mustapa Mohamed, to work out something together that will help bring in some new foreign investments in Malaysia.

By the way, they should go back to Parliament to see if they could remove the minimum wage and to let employers sort it out at their ends.

Because, as it is it will be too much to pay a minimum wage of RM800 to an office cleaner or office boy or a messenger or a coffee maker or, as a matter of fact, for a production line-worker. All these will jack up the production costs at the end of the day.

Unfortunately, these foreign investors now have a choice and will surely put their investments in countries where labour is cheap and plentiful.

So, it is inevitable that both ministers must sit down to do something concrete quickly, as it is within their powers, prerogatives, office and duty to help bring in new foreign investments into the country - lest before they all go to Burma.

That will then be too late.

The international trade and industry minister should go to Burma to "spy", to see what his ministry should do, in order, to bring back foreign investors who are eyeing Burma.

Hopefully, that will change their mindsets and course to invest in Malaysia, instead.