Burma Govt Looks to Shed Burden of US Sanctions

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 20 February 2016

RANGOON — The US should further ease sanctions on Burma, Vice President Nyan Tun told US President Barack Obama at a US-ASEAN summit this week, according to Burma’s information minister.

At the Feb. 15-16 meeting of Southeast Asian leaders in California, Nyan Tun claimed that although the US has been giving economic support to ASEAN countries, Burma has received relatively little developmental assistance because of US sanctions, according to Ye Htut, as quoted in state-run media on Friday.

According to Ye Htut, Nyan Tun informed participants that “Burmese businesspeople still can’t compete with other businesspeople [in the ASEAN region] because of sanctions.”

“[Nyan Tun] said that [Burma] is improving politically and that sanctions should be lifted. The US said that this will depend on how the country moves forward,” Ye Htut added.

The United States restored diplomatic ties with Burma in 2012, after Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government came to power the previous year.

While economic sanctions were eased for some sectors and individuals, many businesspeople remain on the Treasury Department’s Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list.

US investment in Burma remains relatively low, as many potential investors are opting for a judicious approach to entering the frontier market. Still, some major American brands such as Coca-Cola, Gap and KFC have already broken ground in the country.

Ye Htut made clear to the media neither which sanctions should be lifted first nor which individuals should be removed from the SDN list.

Meanwhile, the American Chamber of Commerce’s Myanmar chapter hosted a meeting in Rangoon on Feb. 17 with leaders from the health care, manufacturing and retail sectors. Maung Maung Lay, vice chairman of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI), told The Irrawaddy that meeting delegates talked about the limits placed on money transfers between the US and Burma due to sanctions.

“There are some people still on the SDN list, and most US banks don’t want to take risks or waste their time, which is why transferring money is difficult. The Burma government as well as various sectors want the US to totally lift sanctions,” Maung Maung Lay said.

“US involvement [in Burma] can bring many benefits to our country. If it lifts sanctions, other countries will feel confident about investing here.”

Since last year, the Chamber has been pushing for the lifting of trade sanctions on Burma, urging the US government to re-examine the sanctions list and remove some companies and individuals. This, the body argues, would create a level playing field in Burma for US companies with otherwise limited business power and that incur steep costs as a result of undergoing lengthy compliance reviews.

Hope, however, may be faint in the near-term.

“President Obama will be busy this year. I don’t see much potential for sanctions to be lifted soon,” Maung Maung Lay said.

President Obama’s recently confirmed nominee for ambassador to Burma, Scot Marciel, said in December that he does not anticipate major changes in US sanctions in the wake of the country’s historic general election in November.

“I would not anticipate, nor recommend, any dramatic change,” Scot Marciel said at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Marciel added that the sanctions system is “somewhat dynamic” and does allow for the measures to be eased if countries are deemed to have made progress.