Canada, New Zealand Assess Business Prospects
Two of the West’s most trenchant supporters of economic and diplomatic sanctions against Burma have suddenly warmed to the idea of doing business with the country.
As New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Murray McCully flew out of Rangoon on Thursday, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird arrived.
Both met Aung San Suu Kyi and senior government ministers. Both hinted that their countries would look favourably on easing or ending sanctions if April parliamentary by-elections are seen to be fair and open.
“There is palpable optimism in the streets of Rangoon,” Baird said on March 9. “I commend President Thein Sein and his government for their commitments to reform.”
Canada’s leading newspaper, the Toronto Globe & Mail, commented: “The interest in Myanmar is, in part, linked to the government’s trade-driven ties to Asia and to Southeast Asian nations in the 10-country Asean block.
“Mr. Baird’s mission is to gauge commitment to reforms and, if encouraged, to signal Canada will ease sanctions if Myanmar’s reforms become entrenched.”
Meanwhile, it was revealed that a government agency, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, has given technical aid to businesses in Burma to help develop agriculture.
Their visits comes as business risk assessors Maplecroft of the UK commented that “Western businesses are closely monitoring the by-elections which, if deemed as a free and fair by the international community, may allow for further easing of sanctions.”
Senior Ex-UN Official Urges Quick End to Sanctions
A senior international aid figure has called for a rapid end to economic sanctions against Burma, saying they will no longer help the momentum of reform.
“The challenge for the West, which has contributed to the country’s seclusion, is to recalibrate its response to the reform initiatives,” said the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour.
“Blanket prohibitions on trade, financial transactions or development aid should no longer be used to address single-issue bilateral agendas such as people smuggling,” said Arbour who is now president of the International Crisis Group.
Writing in the New York Times, she said the international community is now “pushing on an open door in Myanmar; the real difficulty is in crossing the threshold effectively to achieve an agreed-upon objective.
“Neither sanctions nor a stampede of offers of assistance will help.”
Burma’s Gain from Thailand’s Flood Pain?
Some Japanese industrial firms whose businesses were washed out by the severe floods in Thailand late last year could move their operations to Burma.
It has been revealed that almost one in ten Japanese businesses in Thailand plans to leave the Kingdom and relocate to neighboring countries.
Eight percent of all Japanese manufacturers in Thailand plan to relocate out of the country, claims a survey by the Japanese Chamber of Commerce Bangkok (JCCB).
Some businesses have been at a standstill since October and some are sceptical of Bangkok government efforts to prevent a recurrence of the flooding which inundated industrial zones just north of the Thai capital.
“Some are still waiting to see the Thai government’s flood prevention plan,” Chamber chairman Setsuo Iuchi told AFP news agency this week.
Japanese government officials have begun negotiations in Naypyidaw to seek a secure investment agreement for their companies seeking to do business in Burma. They include issues such as intellectual property protection and the deregulation of foreign firms.
A favourite choice for businesses relocating out of Thailand is Vietnam. However, some Japanese firms are looking at Burma in the light of recent political reforms, a Japanese official in Bangkok told The Irrawaddy on Thursday on condition of anonymity.
Economic Sanctions a ‘Mistake’: US Business Leader
Western sanctions against Burma have been a failure and “handed the country over to China,” said Stanley A. Weiss, the chairman of US organization Business Executives for National Security.
“Sanctions don't work if others aren't willing to play along. By folding its hand in 1990, the US not only forfeited any influence it had in Myanmar, it handed the country over to China, which was all too willing to oblige with huge transfers of wealth and resources to junta leaders,” said Weiss writing in the Internet-based newspaper the Huffington Post.
Banning Burmese students access to Western education was also a big mistake because it “drove many young people to seek an education in Beijing. As a result, very few [Burmese] under the age of 55 have ever experienced a free society or rule of law,” he said.