With sanctions on Myanmar easing and banking reforms shaping a regulatory structure in line with global best practices, international banks are positioning themselves in a market that has been largely closed for half a century.

Japanese banks appear to be first to take positions, suggesting that Tokyo’s tolerance of Myanmar’s military rulers for more than five decades has provided them with a distinct advantage.

Japan’s frontrunners
Japan’s three largest lenders – Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp, and Mizuho Bank – have now all been allowed to take up positions in Myanmar.

The Japanese government meanwhile has written off around USS$5.5 billion in debt owed by Myanmar over the last few years and pushed the country to progress with reforms that include an easing of media censorship and the enactment of a new foreign investment law.

Singapore second
Singapore has also been granted greater representation than other countries for its banks to operate in Myanmar.

The Singaporean government has offered the country training and education programmes.

US difference
Japan did not impose trade and financial sanctions on Myanmar during its fifty years of military rule.

Washington however still restricts business links between US firms and designated military figures in Myanmar.

This is apparently making international as well as US banks wary of doing business with Myanmar.