2019 has seen the issue of the first exploration permits in Myanmar since a 2016 moratorium was lifted in July 2018, reopening access to one of Southeast Asia’s final mining frontiers.

Myanmar has a long history of mining dating from the 15th century. During British rule the government granted mining leases, mainly to British private companies. Following independence in 1948, the government entered into joint ventures but in the 1950’s and 60’s all private mining companies were nationalized. All naturally occurring minerals found either on or under the soil of any land and in the continental shelf were deemed to be owned by the State. State owned enterprises were set up to carry out mining.

Since 1989, when Myanmar first reopened its economy to foreign investment, both foreign and local companies have been encouraged to invest in the Myanmar mineral sector, although development has been slow. The Myanmar Mines Law was promulgated in mid-1994 (with gemstones mining being subject to a separate Gemstones Law of 1995). It adopted the exiting right of the State’s ownership of all minerals. All mining activities were administrated by the Ministry of Mines.

In December 2015, Myanmar adopted substantial amendments to the Myanmar Mines Law following which, in 2016, the Ministry of Mines was merged with the Ministry of Environmental Conservation to form the and Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation (MONREC). MONREC is the government ministry responsible for administration of the mining industry.

Upon its formation, MONREC implemented a moratorium on the issue of new mining permits due to concern over the environmental damage caused by the mining industry and “legal confusion” pending issue of new Mines Rules. These rules were finally issued in February 2018 and the moratorium was lifted in July 2018, with MONREC announcing that, following assessment of 519 mining sites and instituting various reforms, new local and foreign investment in the mining sector would again be permitted.

There are still a number of questions to be answered on how MONREC will apply the new law and rules, particularly around State participation in mining projects, but there is certainly significant interest from foreign investors. In January 2019, MONREC announced it was processing a total of 40 proposals for mineral exploration at large and medium sized mining blocks.

Dentons Myanmar Mining Guide provides an overview of the regulations impacting investment in the mining sector.