UK Export Finance (UKEF) will provide US$300mn in cover for Myanmar, in an effort to help the UK compete with Asian companies currently dominating in the country.

The initiative will support UK exporters working in Myanmar, but will also allow the Myanmar government to borrow directly for deals with some UK content, but not completely UK-based – an unusual arrangement for an export credit agency, but one which separates UKEF from many of its peers, which have stringently high local content requirements.

The UK is now the fifth-largest player in Myanmar’s nascent foreign direct investment market behind neighbouring countries China, Singapore, Thailand and Hong Kong. The UK has, as of January 2016, invested just over US$4bn in Myanmar since sanctions were removed.

Japan is also a significant investor, and has had a head start over many of its rivals, given its longstanding support for the internationally-maligned military junta, which still holds many key positions of power in the country, despite the recent elections.

The UKEF campaign was signed by Lord Ahmad, the UK transport minister, on a trip to Yangon, and it marks a recent push by the export credit agency in Asia.

At a recent event in Mumbai, Sam Hoexter, UKEF head of business development for Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and India, spoke of his desire to be more outward-looking for the region after he admitted that the agency had been left behind by many of its more renowned rivals in the export credit world, due to years of relative inactivity.

There are estimated to be up to 50 British companies in Myanmar, many in the professional services sector. Willis Insurance was one of the first UK companies in the field to open a Myanmar representative office, back in March 2014.

Speaking to GTR recently, the chief representative officer in the country, Khaing Zar Aung, outlined the challenges faced when operating in Myanmar.

“It can be very frustrating. Our office is next to Myanmar Insurance [the government-owned organisation through which every policy must pass]. Every email that goes to the one common email address gets printed off and sent to the managing director’s room, who approves all of it. To speed it up, we print off the email and run over to the insurance office and get it agreed. That’s a lot faster. That’s how we do business.”

Quite often, it is necessary for businesses to use consultants to enter the market. “It’s important,” says Aung. “There are people who have been around for 20 years and know their way about. It’s very important to know the right people at the right departments. Otherwise your paper application will be pushed around different ministry offices. It will take a lot longer than you think.”