RANGOON — A joint delegation from the US state and treasury departments concluded on Friday a visit to Burma, where they met with American companies and reviewed the impact of easing US sanctions over the past year.
The delegation considered possible future changes to the US government’s Specially Designated Nationals List of individuals, groups and entities subject to economic sanctions, according to Sarah Hutchison, a US Embassy spokeswoman in Rangoon.
“At this point it’s just a very general discussion,” she told The Irrawaddy on Friday, adding that she could not provide more detail in terms of specific individuals identified. “This will be a long and involved review process.”
The delegation was led by Peter Harrell, the deputy assistant secretary for counter threat finance and sanctions, as well as David Mortlock, deputy coordinator for sanctions policy. The visit, which began on Monday, included meetings with US businesses, government officials, civil society and members of the private sector, to learn about their experiences doing business in the country and to discuss the impact of the easing of US sanctions over the past year, according to the US Embassy.
Hutchison said she could not immediately comment on the findings of the delegation, nor could she detail the specific individuals or businesses who met with the group, but she said more information might be available over the weekend.
“The delegation was pleased to hear that US businesses are enthusiastic about opportunities in the country and committed to be responsible partners to Myanmar [Burma] business and civil society,” the US Embassy said in a statement.
Earlier this week, Burma’s top diplomat encouraged US companies to join the “gold rush” in his country, speaking during a visit to New York for a meeting of the UN General Assembly.
“The door for business opportunity has been closed for four decades,” Burmese Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin told leaders from the government, nonprofit, public and private sectors at a forum about investment in Burma, as quoted by Asia Society, which hosted the event. “The door is now wide open. It’s a gold rush.”
Burma President Thein Sein’s economic adviser Zaw Oo was also in attendance at the forum. “We have so much to offer,” he reportedly said, promoting Burma’s rich natural resources and large labor pool. “What we need is to show quick and tangible benefits to our people.”
USAID administrator Rajiv Shah, who gave closing remarks at the forum, said dozens of US companies requested to join his recent trip to Burma, while noting remaining challenges to investment, including the need to redefine the Burmese military’s political and economic role, establish rule of law, root out corruption and address land rights issues.
As a reward for political reforms since Thein Sein came to power in 2011, the United States has waived nearly all of its economic sanctions on Burma, allowing big-name companies such as Coca-Cola and Visa to set up shop in the country. The US government has waived restrictions on the provision of financial services, authorized new investment by Americans—subject to reporting requirements—and permitted the importation of all products from Burma, with the exception of jadeite and rubies.
Economic sanctions were placed on Burma under the former regime, following a military crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in 1988 and the regime’s rejection of election results in 1990. Some rights activists have criticized the US government for moving too quickly to waive sanctions under Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government, saying that rights abuses continue against Muslims in west Burma and ethnic minorities in border states.
The United States has taken a more cautious approach than some other countries, including member states of the European Union, which permanently lifted all sanctions except an arms embargo on Burma in April.
The US government this year extended the act prohibiting US businesses and individuals from dealing with persons on the Specially Designated Nationals List and their companies.
American companies investing US$500,000 or more in Burma, or investing in the country’s oil and gas sector, are also required by the US government to file reports on steps taken toward responsible investment, including implementation of human rights or worker rights policies and efforts of due diligence regarding local business partners. The reports, which are published on the US Embassy website, must also detail payments exceeding $10,000 to Burma government bodies.
The reporting process started in July, and companies have about half a year to file a report after reaching the half-million dollar investment threshold. As of this week, reports from only five companies were available on the embassy website, with Coca-Cola, Visa and other major companies absent from the filings.