US Lifts Sanctions on Prominent Burmese Businessman

By Matthew Pennington 24 April 2015

WASHINGTON — The Treasury on Thursday removed a prominent Burmese businessman from a blacklist that had barred him from doing business in the United States.

The beneficiary, Win Aung, is president of Burma’s main business association. Treasury also removed two companies of the Dagon Group that he heads off the sanctions list. The Dagon Group has interests in timber, rubber, energy and construction.

The Obama administration rolled back trade and investment sanctions against Burma in 2012 to reward its shift from direct military rule, but the United States still forbids business dealings with military corporations and certain other individuals and companies, mostly officials and cronies of the former regime.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Thursday that the United States has made clear that those sanctioned can seek delisting by demonstrating “they have taken positive steps and changed behavior.”

Burma wants Washington to lift sanctions entirely, but the quasi-civilian government has been criticized for stalling on reforms and detaining peaceful protesters as the Southeast Asian heads toward elections in November.

“We have made clear to the Burmese government that additional changes in US sanctions policy are dependent on the government’s continuing its democratic and economic reforms and resolving disputes with members of ethnic groups,” Harf said in a statement.

The US administration has looked to promote American investment in Burma’s untapped market, and Win Aung’s blacklisting had caused some awkwardness.

Although he was alleged to have used his close ties to Burma’s military rulers to build one of the country’s biggest business conglomerates, he’s supported the country’s opening.

Right activists criticized the United States when in 2013, Jose Fernandez, then-assistant secretary of state for economic and business affairs, shook hands with Win Aung, head of the Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry, at an event in Burma to promote business ties with the United States.