As US Companies Disclose Burma Investments, Washington Blacklists General
By Simon Roughneen 3 July 2013
RANGOON — Five American businesses have filed “responsible investment” reports with the US government as part of new requirements for companies putting more than US$500,000 in Burma.
The reports, posted on the website of the US Embassy in Burma, come as the United States ups diplomatic and commercial engagement with a country that was long under American sanctions.
Two of the five companies listed so far—Hercules Offshore Inc. and Crowley Marine Services—have carried out small-scale support work in Burma’s energy sector, working with Thailand’s PTTEP, which in turn has partnered with the long-controversial state-owned Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE). Any commercial dealings by American companies with MOGE must be reported, according to the investment requirements.
Companies are required to report on human rights, worker rights, anti-corruption and environmental policies, and procedures relating to their Burma operations. In a detailed submission, Hercules Offshore said a compliance officer visited Burma twice to check on whether subcontractors were sticking to the rules, while Crowley Marine Services reported that it “maintains a comprehensive series of policies and procedures that address environmental and social concerns.”
While many of the sanctions on Burma have been removed and big-name American businesses such as Coca-Cola and General Electric have set up shop in the Southeast Asian country, some prominent Burmese businessmen, collectively nicknamed “cronies,” remain blacklisted due to links with the former military junta.
And despite the removal of a visa ban on Burma government officials and a general thaw in bilateral relations, former Border Affairs Minister Lt-Gen Thein Htay was on Tuesday added to the US blacklist due to alleged continued arms trading with North Korea.
The general’s military links with Pyongyang go against the Burma government’s pledges to stick to UN Security Council resolutions targeting North Korea and to end its previous military links with the country, which were once said to have included imports of nuclear material.
“Thein Htay has disregarded international requirements to stop purchasing military goods from North Korea, the revenues from which directly support North Korea’s illicit activities,” said David S. Cohen, the US Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.
The US government said the listing of the general was not aimed at its Burmese counterpart, and it seems the move is unlikely to undermine nascent commercial and political ties between the two countries.
Burma’s President Thein Sein visited the United States in May, following a stopover by US President Barack Obama in Rangoon late last year. In a nod to the warming diplomat links between the former adversaries, US Secretary of State John Kerry told Burma’s Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin in Brunei on Monday that “President Thein Sein works with a resurgent parliament that includes former military officers working alongside [opposition leader] Aung San Suu Kyi, and that is really an incredible testament to the possibilities of what happens with leadership and with values and the possibility of progress.”
Last year the United States ended a ban on imports from Burma, except for Burma’s multi-billion dollar jade and ruby mining sectors, both of which have been linked to ongoing fighting between the Burma Army and ethnic minority rebels in Kachin and Shan states.
And while American companies eye investment opportunities in Burma, Burmese businesses are in turn hoping to expand, based on hopes of accessing the American market.
For Burma’s labor-intensive garment sector, selling to US-based buyers represents “a good opportunity for the Myanmar garment makers,” according to Myint Soe. He is chairman of the Myanmar Garment Manufacturers Association, representing more than 150,000 workers in a sector that took hefty commercial losses during the United States import ban.