NLD MPs Discuss Trade, Aid with Australian Ministers

By Shah Paung 9 May 2012

CANBERRA, Australia — Three National League for Democracy (NLD) MPs met with senior Australian government ministers, including Prime Minister Julia Gillard, on Monday to discuss international efforts to promote development in Burma.

The MPs, who arrived in Australia last week to attend a workshop at the University of Sydney, also met with Burma’s ambassador to Australia, Paw Lwin Sein, and former  PM Kevin Rudd during their visit to Canberra.

During meetings with the country’s ministers for education, trade and foreign affairs, the three Burmese MPs focused on ways the international community can help Burma improve the lives of its citizens, according to Phyo Min Thein, one of the NLD representatives.

Speaking to the group, Foreign Minster Bob Carr assured them that Australia’s recent decision to suspend sanctions on Burma would be reviewed after one year. There would be no permanent lifting of the sanctions unless reforms in Burma continue, he said.

The sanctions include a ban on imports from Burma and travel restrictions on leading  members of the Burmese military. Following the crackdown on the 2007 Saffron Revolution, financial sanctions were also imposed.

On the growing international interest in Burma’s economy, the MPs said they welcomed foreign investment in Burma, but urged companies considering doing business there to put the interests of the country’s people ahead of profits.

“We look forward to seeing businesses that can provide jobs for the ordinary people. We hope they will not just come to take our resources,” said Phyo Min Thein.

Aid was also discussed during the talks. Australian Labor Party MP Janelle Saffin told The Irrawaddy that Australia would keep the NLD informed about its planned increase in official development assistance (ODA) for Burma.

“The NLD MPs whilst here requested of our Foreign Minister Mr Bob Carr that the NLD be consulted [on ODA] and he agreed on the broadest consultation,” said Saffin, who took part in a panel discussion with the NLD MPs at the Australian National University on Monday evening.

According to AusAid, the Australian government will provide A$63 million to Burma in 2012-2013 for poverty alleviation, up from the $47.6 million it gave last year.

Saffin also acknowledged that the decision to lift sanctions was not universally welcomed, particularly among Burmese activists living in Australia.

“Sanctions has always been a controversial issue, but the timing was right and the easing of sanctions from Australia’s perspective was done in response to some of the changes taken by the Myanmar [Burma] government,” she said.