Asian firms to spearhead Myanmar expansion

Two of South East Asia’s largest firms, Rajah & Tann and Zaid Ibrahim & Co, have announced plans to expand into Myanmar.

Chew Seng Kok

Singapore-based Rajah & Tann recently launched a Myanmar practice, co-headed by Singapore-based partners Chester Toh and Jainil Bhandari. A spokesperson for the firm confirmed that it is looking to open an office in Myanmar in the first half of 2013.

The Singaporean firm kickstarted its regional expansion plans with the launch of an office each in Ho Chi Minh City and Bangkok in 2011 (14 September 2011). In addition, it has established associate and affiliate offices in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Cambodia.

Malaysia-based Zaid Ibrahim & Co has also confirmed its plans to launch in Myanmar.

“Foreign companies are making a beeline to look at investment opportunities, with Chinese and Japanese companies taking the lead,” said Zaid Ibrahim managing partner Chew Seng Kok. “Since last July, we’ve been monitoring the situation in Myanmar, mainly in response to requests by clients for assistance. We’re in the process of establishing our office in Yangon within the next two months.”

Zaid Ibrahim has also built up a network across South East Asia, which operates under group brand ZICOlaw. ZICOlaw is now headquartered in Kuala Lumpur with branch offices in Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam and associated offices in Cambodia and Indonesia.

A number of Asian firms from countries neighbouring Myanmar have already been involved in a variety of commercial and investment activity for their clients. Prior to 2011, with little investment from the Western world, most of the foreign investment in Myanmar was from Asian countries, such as Thailand, Singapore, China and Japan.

As a result, a number of Asian firms have already established a presence in the country through local associations. For example, Bangkok-based Chandler & Thong-ek Law Offices has an afficated office in Yangon named Myanmar Legal Services and South East Asia firm DFDL, first founded in Laos, is associated with Myanmar Thanlwin Legal Services.

Baker & McKenzie is one of the first international firms to set up a dedicated Myanmar centre, which is based in its Bangkok office. The firm appointed Myanmar-qualified lawyer Saw Yu Win to the centre last August and is working towards an eventual in-country presence in the future (15 August 2012).

For more information on the opportunities and challenges Myanmar offers to law firms, see this week’s City column.