Coca Cola returns to Burma as sanctions end


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The Independent Online

More than sixty years after it was last legally available in the country, Coca Cola plans to start supplying its soft drinks to Burma. It will mean there will soon only be two nations – North Korea and Cuba – where the drinks giant doesn't do business.

In a move that raises the prospect of a series of advertisements as saccharine-sweet as its products, the world’s largest soft drink retailer said it would begin operating in Burma as soon as the US governments issues licences to American companies to trade there. The US is among those Western nations which have recently said they will lift sanctions against Burma in order to reward the flurry of democratic reforms undertaken by President Thein Sein.

The Atlanta-based company said its charitable foundation was also investing £1.9m in Burma to fund job creation schemes for women. “Coca-Cola has not done business in Myanmar (Burma) for more than 60 years,” it said in a statement. “While some products will initially be imported from neighbouring countries, Coca-Cola plans to establish local business relationships and work with local customer partners as part of the long-term economic development of Myanmar.”

The Associated Press reported yesterday that Coca-Cola began operations in Cuba in 1906 and that it was one of the first countries in which it did business. Following the Cuban revolution, Fidel Castro’s government began seizing private assets and the company liquidated and pulled out of the country in 1960. The company has never operated in North Korea. Any Coca-Cola products available in either country make their way their through third parties.

In 1949 Coca-Cola was among those foreign companies were expelled from China by the communist government. After diplomatic relations were reestablished with the country in 1979, Coca-Cola had 20,000 cases of its drink delivered by train from Hong Kong. The company began operation in Burma in 1927 but they were subsequently suspended.

The actions of the soft drink maker are typical of many Western businesses keen to enter the Burmese market after many years during which they were prohibited from doing so. As a result, Chinese, South Korean, Thai and Indian firms have had a head-start on winning energy and infrastructure deals. With tourist numbers soaring, there is huge potential for other firms.

A number of campaigners believe sanctions have been lifted too quickly and that hundreds of political prisoners remain behind bars and violence against ethnic groups continues.