Burma’s Business Community Pushes for Lifting of US Sanctions

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 14 September 2016

RANGOON — Members within the Burmese business community anticipate a decision on the future of US economic sanctions on Burma during State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s official visit to the country this week.

Former general U Shwe Mann—whose son Toe Naing Mann owns several businesses in the financial, agricultural, and communications sectors—shared his own thoughts on the sanctions on Tuesday, expressing his hope that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will convince the US to lift remaining economic restrictions on the country during her trip to Washington DC.

“I would like Daw Aung San Suu Kyi come back from UK, USA, and UN trips carrying gold and diamond pots for the country and the people,” U Shwe Mann wrote on his Facebook page, a reference to a well-known Burmese saying that parents “wish to see the son carrying home a pot of gold.”

The State Counselor arrived in the US on Wednesday and American authorities have said that matters related to economic sanctions, economic growth during Burma’s transition period, internal peace and ongoing tension in Arakan State will be on the agenda for discussion.

U Khin Shwe, chairman of the Zaykabar Group of Companies, has been on the sanctions list of Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) for more than a decade. He told The Irrawaddy that he hopes Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s trip to the US will result in the lifting of sanctions so that he has the option of working with American investors.

“As long as sanctions are active, we cannot work well. Even other countries are also hesitant to invest here,” he said.

“The consequence is if sanctions remain, there will be no new job opportunities and no new investment, so people will suffer it and it could bring us backward. The US will have to take responsibility for this,” he said.

U Khin Shwe said US officials have asked him several questions to determine whether he should be removed from the SDN list.

“I’ve been asked by them about land grabbing—whether I’m still involved or not. I told them I’m no longer involved in it, but nothing has changed,” he said.

Even if the SDN list were amended, military-backed businesses would continue to face economic restrictions.

U Thein Tun, chairman of the Tun Foundation and Myanmar Bankers Association, said that some military-backed businesses and arm dealers in particular expect to remain on the sanctions list.

“The US government needs to consider that many businessmen remaining on the sanctions list are doing work internationally, and the country’s recent economy is not good. It should consider the situation seriously,” he said.

The Irrawaddy spoke with the chairman of the Max Myanmar Group of Companies U Zaw Zaw—also on the SDN list—on Wednesday amid speculation that sanctions against him could be removed. He said it was “too early” to comment.

In the lead-up to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s trip to the US, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a statement on Sept. 9 recommending that the US not ease economic sanctions against Burma.

White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told a conference on Tuesday ahead of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to Washington DC that “we want to make sure our sanctions are not preventing the type of economic development and investment” that would help people in Burma, Reuters reported.

“We want to get her thinking on what we can do that is most effective in promoting the democratic transition and promoting greater economic growth,” Rhodes said.

Rhodes also described several areas of concern in Burma, including constitutional reform, the treatment of the Muslim minority and military interference in politics.