Prime Minister John Key has touched down in Myanmar - declaring his historic visit is more than just symbolic.
Key is the first New Zealand prime minister to visit the troubled southeast Asian nation, which was ruled by an oppressive military junta for five decades.
He follows US President Barack Obama, who alongside Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, made a whirlwind trip on Monday.
The West is keen to encourage Myanmar's shift to democracy and has lifted punitive sanctions and unfrozen diplomatic links.
As the formerly isolated country opens up, it offers opportunities for investment in agriculture and as it rebuilds its infrastructure and telecommunications networks. Myanmar - formerly known as Burma - also has valuable natural resources including oil, gas, teak and rubies.
Its Parliament recently passed a law allowing foreign investment and credit card company Visa recently signed a deal, signalling an end to the cash-only economy.
Fonterra already does $18m worth of trade there and Key will attend a business event in Yangon this afternoon.
"There's lots of opportunities: it's arable land, a big population [about 60 million] and it is going to get wealthy over time," Key said. "If you roll the clock forward ten years time, most of the leaders I talk to around the region think it will be an increasingly important market."
While Key wants to encourage the democratic and social reforms that have taken place since President Thein Sein was elected in 2010, he says he won't ignore human rights issues. Ethnic violence has flared in the Rakhine province, leaving up to 100,000 displaced and around 100 dead. He is expect to announce financial aid.
Later today he'll tour the gold and diamond topped-Shwedagon pagoda - also visited by Obama this week before heading to a gathering of ex-pats.
Tomorrow, the New Zealand delegation will stop at the Taukkyan cemetery, where nine Kiwi soldiers are laid to rest, for a remembrance service.
Key will then fly onto the capital Naypyitaw to meet with Thein Sein at the president palace and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
He'll tour Parliament buildings before flying out on Friday.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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