intends to raise the minimum amount of investment that triggers
reporting requirements for its firms in Myanmar, although there
are doubts that the move would trigger much of an increase in
by Steve Gilmore, MyanmarTimes, Myanmar, May 20
Senior US administration officials said on May 17 that as part
of actions to help trade, investment and the new government, the
US would raise the reporting threshold for “aggregate new
investment” from US$500,000 to $5 million.
The announcement came as part of a series of amendments to the
US sanctions regime against Myanmar following the country’s
transition to a democratically elected government.
The reporting system requires all US companies with investment
over $500,000 in Myanmar to file annual reports, along with
companies that have any investments with state-run Myanma Oil
and Gas Enterprise (MOGE).
This system has attracted a range of opinion, from US firms that
believe reporting requirements should be removed altogether to
human rights organisations that say reporting should be made
more rigorous and better defined, giving firms less discretion
over what they disclose.
Officials at US firms have also encountered issues with the
definition of “new investment”, and had to seek clarity from the
US administration over what exactly qualifies.
US officials did not comment on any change to the structure of
the reporting, but said that a higher threshold would help
“We’ve discovered, in part through [an] extended public comments
process, that while there are mixed views on [the] reporting
requirements, a consistent [concern] has been the threshold that
requires reporting,” said one senior US official, asking not to
Small and medium enterprises in particular have found the
threshold a costly obstacle to investment. The change “should
minimise the reporting burden, and encourage US companies that
want to invest to do so”, he said.
The change in threshold was under “administrative review” and
expected to be active “within weeks”, he added.
But people at US firms were doubtful the threshold shift would
lead to substantial new investment.
Many of the US companies in Myanmar have invested over $5
million, and several others have chosen to report, despite not
hitting the $500,000 threshold, said Eric Rose, lead director at
Herzfeld Rubin Meyer and Rose law firm in Yangon.
General Electric is among the companies that report voluntarily
while remaining beneath the $500,000 threshold and not engaging
in agreements with MOGE.
Pressure from human rights and civil society groups, which often
rate the quality of US firms’ disclosure documents for their
Myanmar operations, acts as a strong incentive to meet the
reporting requirement regardless.
An official at one US company operating in Myanmar, who asked to
remain anonymous, said the move would help remove an
administrative burden, “but I don’t think people decide to
invest or not based on [the] reporting threshold”, he said.
Claudia Flores, director of the University of Chicago Law
School’s International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC), said the
change in threshold was a “step in the wrong direction”.
She and a team from the IHRC visited Myanmar earlier this year,
and heard repeatedly that workers face barriers to securing
basic workplace rights, Ms Flores said.
Given Myanmar’s history of human rights abuse, ensuring
investment is done responsibility and meets human rights
standards is critical, the IHRC has said.
For US firms “a duty to report is, at best, tenuously connected
to any financial burden”, said Ms Flores. “A $5 million
threshold would only encompass rather large investments leaving
all other investments unaccountable in their adverse impact on
The IHRC in January submitted comments to the US State
Department, noting that some firms,
particularly international garment and footwear brands,
operating in Myanmar maintain they are not required to report.
Reports from other companies provide little in the way of useful
information that would allow civil society groups to monitor
whether human rights are being protected, the IHRC said.
The IHRC wants better-defined reporting requirements, which
include details of what kind of policies and procedures firms
must design to address how their operations
affect things like human rights, that require US firms to
disclose the identify of their local partners and that are
available in Myanmar language.
“If the threshold is increased, it should follow that the
requirements are more rigorous than those currently drafted,” Ms
Although some US firms want the requirements dropped altogether,
the official at the US firm operating in Myanmar said he thought
any level of disclosure was helpful, as long as it was not
“Being shy sends alarm bells,” he said.
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