Burma Business Wrap (January 23, 2012)
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Burma Business Wrap (January 23, 2012)


By STEPHEN BLOOM / THE IRRAWADDY Monday, January 23, 2012


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The looming potential that US and EU sanctions will be significantly eased or lifted in the near future dominated the Burmese business headlines last week, with regional interests continuing their efforts to get a foothold in Burma before Western competitors enter the fray.

Momentum Builds Towards Easing of Western Sanctions

Seizing the opportunity presented by an in-depth interview with The Washington Post, Burmese President Thein Sein made his case for immediate sanctions removal.

He argued that Burma has already met the Western requirements for the lifting of sanctions and that 20-plus years of sanctions were the sole reason why his country was mired in dire economic straits, with a poverty rate of about 26 percent and 3 million workers having left the country in search of better employment opportunities.

Thein Sein’s government has clearly met some of the conditions previously set for the lifting of sanctions, including the opening up of dialogue with opposition leaders such as Aung San Suu Kyi and the release of a significant number of political prisoners.

Burma has also taken important steps towards meeting other Western conditions, with an effort underway to achieve a nationwide ceasefire with ethnic armed groups and a good start towards a free and fair by-election in April that will see the participation of Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy.

However, fighting is still taking place in Kachin State, there are still some political prisoners in Burmese jails and the rigged 2010 general election has not yet been forgotten, so the Burmese government has some work remaining if it wants to see sanctions removed entirely.

That being said, representatives from both the US and EU sent clear signals last week that if the Thein Sein administration stayed on the reform path and held a free and fair election in April, it could expect to be rewarded sooner rather than later with at least the easing of sanctions.

US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, previously one of the main proponents of US sanctions, traveled to Burma last week and pronounced Thein Sein a “true reformer.”

McConnell met with the Burmese president in Naypyidaw, where he reportedly said that if Burma’s government wanted US sanctions to be removed—which requires US Congressional approval—it should accept the presence of international observers for the April by-election, cease all fighting with ethnic armed groups and discontinue questionable relations with North Korea.

He also said that the views of Suu Kyi would be given great weight on the issue of sanctions removal, a perspective echoed later in the week by US Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman, who arrived in Burma on Sunday. The two Senators also called for international observers for the April by-election, which seems to be the new mantra emerging from Washington.

McCain weighed in heavily on the sanctions discussion and sent some conflicting signals. He first said on Saturday that a free and fair by-election on April 1 could prove a watershed event that could bring sanctions to an end. Afterwards—in a seeming debate with himself—he said that the US should not move too fast and that there were “about ten other things” that Burma needed to do to ensure it was on the right track—although a free and fair election could be reason to ease sanctions to some extent.

"My personal view is that we should not lift any sanctions before April," and possibly not even then if enough progress isn't made, he was quoted as saying in the Wall Street Journal. "We should all applaud what is happening in Myanmar [Burma] but there are many times in history where we learned things aren't what we thought they were."

"Let's not rush into judgments we may regret later on," he said.

Part of McCain’s hesitation may come from the realization that if sanctions are lifted and US and EU businesses rush to invest in Burma, the genie will be out of the bottle and impossible to put back in—it will not be feasible after removing sanctions to turn around and put them back in place.

In contrast, although there may be international political repercussions to such a move, most of the reforms that Burma has enacted thus far could conceivably be reversed—for example, prisoners could be rearrested and the lid put back on the media.

But the trend seems to greatly favor sanctions reduction, and the EU and several of its members have signaled that it may act even more quickly and substantively than the US.



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COMMENTS (5)
 
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Babu k malvic Wrote:
03/02/2012
I request the US to ease the sanctions on Burma , rather to worried about the American Companies, They will have their own inventories Business modules and so on.
Please think of Burmese People and do some thing.

deiwar Wrote:
24/01/2012
I absolutely agree with Nyunt Han and hereby call for international community to demand that Burmese government take measures to put an end to its omnipresent corruption, which must be tackled in order that potential international investments could truly benefit ordinary populace and genuinely talented ones in Burma.

Hein Wrote:
24/01/2012
This is certainly great news for the people of Burma whose standard of living would rise with increased investments (as long as the right regulations are in place). I also don't see why it would be irreversible once the sanctions are lifted. US had huge economic interests in Cuba and Iran before the revolutionaries took over the government. Congress didn't have a problem imposing sanctions on those countries. The more open the society gets, the harder it will be to revert back to the authoritarian government.

tin tin Wrote:
24/01/2012
I agree with McCain last decision, as we are still waiting for World Bank official report to lift the sanction. As we are seeing only a brief flicker of light.

Nyunt Han Wrote:
24/01/2012
" the sole reason why " Burma "was mired in dire economic straits" !
What a load of nonsense!!
The sole reason was the mismanagement and the rampant corruption brought about by Than Shwe and his gang. While the country was mired in dire economic straits they were quietly laughing all the way to Singapore banks !!!

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