Myanmar has opened its doors, a little gingerly at first perhaps, to the West as sanctions have eased and the country has reduced its authoritarianism. For law firms though it has been largely forbidden territory, but now US firm Herzfeld Rubin Meyer & Rose have become the first wholly owned US firm to open in the country.
Forbes’ Jon Springer spoke with Eric Rose about the plans and why the firm chose Myanmar to open its own doors there.
I had a series of conversations with Eric Rose of HRMR about his parent law firm’s global brand, its specialty in emerging and frontier markets and why it has chosen Romania and Myanmar as its two outposts in these markets.
In the interview below, Mr. Rose candidly speaks about the opportunities and risks in Myanmar where he expects GDP to at least triple in the coming 20 years. While representing his law firm, his answers provide a clear view of investing opportunities, business prospects, sanction situations, Myanmar’s history, current stability and international relations.
Jon Springer: During your legal career, you have done a lot of work in emerging and frontier markets both in private practice and as an in-house lawyer for corporations. When did you first work in Myanmar?
Eric Rose: I set up the strategy for American Standard, the kitchen and bath goods manufacturer, in Myanmar in the mid-1990s. At that time, U.S. sanctions were limited. Major sanctions came in 2003.
JS: Was this experience part of why HRMR decided to open an office in Myanmar?
ER: Our firm specializes in emerging and frontier markets. We chose both Romania and Myanmar for similar reasons. Both countries at the time we arrived were newly open to American business. They both have large, literate populations. In both cases they were or are countries starting with a low GDP basis, a high need for infrastructure development, an incredible wealth of natural resources and a strong relatively cheap workforce.
JS: When you say your firm specializes in emerging and frontier markets, what is the range of countries your firm’s attorneys have worked in and range of services provided?
ER: A law firm is only as good as the attorneys it has. Our attorneys have lead transactions in over fifty countries on five continents, the majority of which were then, and some still are, emerging or frontier markets. For example, in the early 1990s, I guided companies like John Deere and Tyco Toys in countries of the former Soviet Union, South Africa and China.
In the middle ’90s, I lead American Standard’s and Trane’s entrance in Vietnam, Burma, Egypt and Eastern Europe. Later, I helped Wabco Automotive and Diasorin penetrate India and China. More recently, I steered Cybertel and Perry Equipment transactions in Latin America and Eastern Europe. The firm has over 200 practitioners in six affiliated offices on three continents, and offers a full range of legal services to its clients, which range from individuals to Fortune 500 companies the world over.
JS: Specifically looking at Myanmar, it has been touted as early as 1885 as the greatest place to invest in the world in Archibald Colquhoun’s Burma and the Burmans: Or, “The best unopened market in the world”. What is different now?
ER: In the first half of the 20th century, Burma was the richest country in Southeast Asia, the largest producer of rice in the world and the number one producer of beans and pulses. Rangoon, at the time, had the best universities and was the hub airport for travel throughout Asia and beyond. Today, Myanmar is the poorest country in Southeast Asia, 75% of its population does not have access to electricity, and only 10% have access to cell phones. What has changed is that, for the first time since Myanmar’s independence, all of its citizens from all ethnic groups, as well as the government and the army, are sharing the same goals.
Read the rest at Forbes here.