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Asia Business: The Week in Review - 2004-01-19

Consumer confidence in Asia is rebounding strongly and a European chamber of commerce has opened in North Korea.

Credit-card company MasterCard recently found that Asian consumers feel more confident about spending money than they have since before the Asian financial crisis of 1997.

"I think the principle finding of the survey was the significant rebound in consumer confidence across the region," says Stuart McDonald, an executive at MasterCard. "We saw nine out of the 13 countries surveyed actually show very positive consumer confidence."

MasterCard uses a rating of one hundred to denote the most optimistic outlook. Fifty reflects a neutral outlook, while a score of zero denotes absolute pessimism.

Overall, Asia registered 64.9 out of a possible score of 100 in the second half of 2003. That was up from 44.9 in the survey six months earlier. Hong Kong's score was 81, up from 21 during the first half of 2003 when the city was hit by the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

Vietnam also registered strong optimism with a score over 90. About 5,500 people, mostly in cities, were surveyed.

A consortium of South Korean and Indian companies has discovered natural gas off western Burma, in the Bay of Bengal. The field holds an estimated 165 billion cubic meters of natural gas.

The companies - South Korea's Daewoo International and Korea Gas Corporation together with India's ONGC Videsh and Gail India - intend to develop the find commercially.

Daewoo signed the exploration contract with Burmese gas companies in August 2000.

A European Union Chamber of Commerce office has opened in North Korea's capital Pyongyang. The chamber says it will promote European investment and protect intellectual property rights on EU products in the isolated communist state.

Over the past few years, North Korea has opened diplomatic relations with several European countries and it introduced a number of economic reforms in 2002. But many countries avoid ties with the repressive government.

United States law prevents most U.S. companies from doing business with North Korea.