File picture: Jacky Naegelen

Washington - Coca-Cola announced Thursday that it would return to Myanmar after a gap of more than six decades, leaving Cuba and North Korea as the only countries without the iconic American fizzy drink.

The Coca-Cola Co. becomes the latest beneficiary of reforms in the long isolated Southeast Asian nation. The company announced plans after the United States said it would ease restrictions on investment.

The Atlanta-based company said it would initially ship Coke from neighbouring countries to Myanmar but, in line with general practice, would find local partners. It said it expected to make “significant investments” in Myanmar over the next three to five years.

“The Coca-Cola Co. has always stood for optimism at times of change and progress around the world,” chairman and chief executive officer Muhtar Kent said in a statement.

Coca-Cola said that it would abide by ethical standards, including respecting human rights and not paying bribes.

The Coca-Cola Foundation, a charity affiliated with the company, said that it would grant $3 million to support job initiatives that empower women in Myanmar.

Coca-Cola said that it has not done business in Myanmar, earlier known as Burma, for more than 60 years. The military seized control of the country in 1962.

The junta ceded power to a nominal civilian, President Thein Sein, last year. Despite initial cynicism about him, Thein Sein has undertaken reforms including freeing political prisoners, opening dialogue with ethnic minorities and launching talks with democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, who was elected to parliament after years under house arrest.

President Barack Obama's administration has also announced a loosening of restrictions on financial services to Myanmar, allowing credit cards to return.

But the United States, unlike several other countries, has not removed restrictions on imports from Myanmar, arguing that gems, timber and other goods provide a lucrative business for anti-reform elements in the army. - Sapa-AFP