Business, Finance & Economics

Pepsi's return to Myanmar

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Buddhist monks in 1996 walk beneath a billboard advertising Pepsi, which pulled its investment out of Myanmar following political pressure in the 1990s.

Credit:

DAVID VAN DER VEEN

Does this photo of monks ambling beneath a massive Pepsi billboard look a bit dated?

It is. The photo was snapped in 1996, one year before Pepsi ceased all operations in Myanmar, the troubled nation formerly titled Burma. The American sanctions designed to punish the country's abusive military rulers were first laid down in 1997 during Bill Clinton's administration. George Bush's office went to add even layers in years to come.

Now, as Western sanctions fizzle, Pepsi plans to reintroduce its sugary wares to Myanmar. Coca Cola announced its plans for an official return in June. The stage is set for a beverage battle to claim favored status on Myanmar's taste buds.

Both Pepsi and Coke are helping establish an unwritten rule for Western investors in Myanmar: if you want to do business in the still-reforming nation, which is still under the military's sway, you've got to pair your investment with a big dose of philanthropy.

Coke dropped $3 million on "women's economic empowerment job creation initiatives" in Myanmar. Pepsi is teaming up with the United Nations to fund vocational training programs, according to its press release.

Both will need to stimulate the economy if they hope to sell sodas. Cans of black-market Coke in Yangon, Burma's largest city, have recently sold for the equivalent of 55 cents. To that average laborer in Myanmar making $1-2 per day, Coke remains a fizzy, brown luxury.