US to Ease Burmese Import Restrictions

By Lalit K Jha 27 September 2012

WASHINGTON—In an effort to take its bilateral relationship with Burma to a new level, the US is to ease restrictions on the import of Burmese goods, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday.

“In recognition of the continued progress toward reform and in response to requests from both the government and the opposition, the United States is taking the next step in normalizing our commercial relationship,” she said, speaking alongside Burmese President Thein Sein in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session.

“We will begin the process of easing restrictions on imports of Burmese goods into the United States. We hope this will provide more opportunities for your people to sell their goods into our market,” Clinton said, turning to Thein Sein.

“As we do so, we will continue consulting with Congress and other relevant stakeholders about additional steps, while at the same time working with you and supporting those who are hoping that the reform will be permanent and progress will be continuing,” said the Secretary of State.

The Burmese president said a series of meetings between the officials of the two countries has contributed to the strengthening health of their bilateral relations.

Thein Sein said that the people of Burma are very pleased with the news that economic sanctions will be eased by the US, and “are grateful” for the American actions. “We still need to continue our path on democratic reforms, but with the recognition and the support from a champion of democracy like the United States, it has been an encouragement for us to continue our chosen path,” he said.

Thein Sein used the occasion to express his cordial greeting to the US president, Barack Obama, and sent him his best wishes for the election campaign.

The announcement by Clinton was welcomed by Burmese experts in the US. “The timing of this announcement is a big win for Thein Sein,” said Suzanne DiMaggio, Asia Society’s Vice-President of Global Policy Programs.

“He will return from his first visit to the US as Myanmar’s president with a major boost to his reform agenda. It’s a concrete deliverable that will go a long way towards muffling critics and hardliners at home,” she said.

“Aung San Suu Kyi’s endorsement of a further easing of sanctions to audiences in Washington last week certainly helped to bring about this development. Her support also gave Congress a green light to initiate legislation that would allow the US to provide much needed financial aid to Myanmar through the World Bank and the IMF,” she said.

“There was worry that her visit to the US would overshadow him [Thein Sein]. But the reality is that she has helped pave the way for Thein Sein by striking a conciliatory tone and underscoring that they both are working toward a common goal,” DiMaggio said.

Hours before Clinton met Thein Sein in New York, the US Treasury Department lifted sanctions on two Burmese banks which eight years ago were identified as financial institutions of primary money laundering concern.

“When the final rule was issued, Myanmar Mayflower Bank and Asia Wealth Bank had been identified as financial institutions of primary money laundering concern, and individuals owning and controlling both banks were determined to be linked with illicit financial activities,” the Department of Treasury said.

“The Treasury Department looks forward to collaborating with the Government of Burma on mutual issues of concern to combat international money laundering and the financing of terrorism,” the statement said.

On his maiden visit to the US as the Burmese president, Thein Sein is scheduled to address the UN General Assembly on Thursday, coinciding with a protest rally in New York by members of the Kachin community urging him to respond to issues related to the humanitarian crisis faced by the Kachin ethnic group in northern Burma.

Organized by the Kachin Alliance, a network of Kachin communities and organizations in USA, the protesters are demanding that Thein Sein and his administration stop the alleged violation of human rights by the government authorities and Burmese army among innocent Kachins. They will also demand the free flow of humanitarian aids to Kachin IDPs along the Burma-China border, and put an end to the war by implementing a peaceful resolution through political dialogue rather than war.

The rally organizers say they will also demand that the UN send personnel to observe the current crisis, and to facilitate a process leading to a peaceful resolution.

Meanwhile, a joint-delegation of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) and the National Council of the Union of Burma (NCUB) arrived in the US to address the current political stalemate in Burma’s peace processes.

The NCUB delegation, led by its chairman David Takapaw, is scheduled to meet with Burma’s ethnic communities and UN officials.

According to an official release, the delegation has met with a number of US officials to discuss the peace processes in Burma, these meetings being of high importance to the delegation.

“Until and unless the Burmese military actually ceases its attacks against the ethnics, ‘stability’ and ‘reconciliation’ in Burma will not be possible,” David Takapaw said. “As for the ethnics, we are ready for more dialogue with all the stakeholders of Burma. We believe that having international community involvement will help pave the way to national reconciliation,” he said.

“We would of course like to resolve Burma’s political issues within a timeframe because we have all suffered enough decades of civil war. However, we are also prepared and will continue to defend our people until peace, national reconciliation and federalism are achieved in Burma,” Takapaw said.

Khun Okker, the UNFC spokesman, said that a unified political and democratic dialogue is a must following the signing of a series of individual ceasefire agreements between ethnic resistance groups and the Burmese government.