Top Story of the Week: US to ease sanctions, upgrade relations
The United States said last week it will ease restrictions on investment to Myanmar and quickly appoint an ambassador as it seeks to boost reformers who allowed landmark elections in the long-closed nation.
In its latest gestures under a three-year diplomatic drive on Myanmar, the US said on April 24 it would step up aid and allow select officials to visit but stopped short of easing the bulk of its sanctions.Citing reforms, Australia softens sanctions on Myanmar, CNN, Apr. 16
Australia said Monday that it was relaxing sanctions on Myanmar, responding to the Southeast Asian country's political reforms by significantly reducing the number of government officials and lawmakers subject to travel restrictions.
The Australian government said it would also encourage trade with Myanmar, which had long languished under oppressive military rule. Australia's previous stance had been to neither encourage nor discourage trade and investment with Myanmar, which is also known as Burma.British PM, Suu Kyi back suspension of Myanmar sanctions, Reuters, Apr. 13
British Prime Minister David Cameron and Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi gave powerful backing on Friday for the suspension of sanctions on the country, a sharp change in stance that could trigger a flood of investment in the resource-rich state.
Cameron, the first Western leader to visit Myanmar in decades, and Nobel laureate Suu Kyi said during a joint news conference in Yangon that sanctions should be suspended, but not lifted altogether, to pressure the civilian government to continue its reform drive.
Suu Kyi and Britain have long been the biggest advocates for enforcing sanctions, which critics say have kept Myanmar's 60 million people in poverty.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s party said Thursday that it was negotiating with the government to change the oath of office for lawmakers because it contravened the party’s official platform. Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi and 42 other members of her party, the National League for Democracy, won seats in Parliament in landmark elections on April 1. The victory was a major step toward reconciliation between the democratic movement and the military-backed government. But the party now says it objects to a part of the oath of office that commands lawmakers to protect and safeguard the country’s Constitution. Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi has repeatedly said some articles in the Constitution are undemocratic, including a provision that one quarter of the seats in Parliament are reserved for the military, and the party wants to amend the document.Guest post: Myanmar has much to offer but a long way to go, Financial Times, Apr. 12
I spent a few days in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city, just before this month’s elections. It was my first visit since 1985. Back then, there were one or two flights in a day from Bangkok on small planes. One could only stay a week and there were no more than 4,000 foreigners in the country at any time. There are still only 300,000 visitors a year, compared with 19m in Thailand.
This time I arrived on an Airbus 300, packed with western tourists and some Thai, Burmese and Chinese businessmen (all with local SIM cards) – and six saffron-robed monks.
The change from 1985 is vivid. Then, nothing seemed to have been built since the British left in 1948. Today, modern buildings are mixed with the traditional. There are Korean restaurants, road signs saying “Drive Safely” in English and advertisements for global brands such as Palmolive and Manchester United. It is a surreal place: on the day of my arrival, the front page news was the vice president’s visit to a “shed warming” ceremony for a baby elephant. People openly discussed politics and street vendors were selling Aung San Suu Kyi T-shirts.Burma Set to Enter ‘Dual Ruling Party’ Era, Irrawaddy, Apr. 12
On April 1, the day that Burma abandoned its longstanding dual exchange rate system, it effectively adopted its political equivalent—a system that grossly overvalues the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), while tacitly acknowledging that its real political capital is essentially nil.
Like the “managed float” of the kyat, the by-elections on April 1 were an exercise in allowing the market—in the form of polling stations—to determine the relative worth of Burma’s main political parties. Even with some (apparently uncoordinated) manipulation (reports of “irregularities” were rife), the USDP won only one of 45 contested seats, in a constituency where the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) did not run; all but one of the remaining seats went to the NLD.UN Security Council Hails Burmese By-elections, Irrawaddy, Apr. 12
The United Nations Security Council has hailed April’s successful by-elections in Burma and praised the Burmese government and opposition for their commitment to moving the country forward.
Susan Rice, US ambassador to the world body, made the comments following a meeting of the 15-member council to discuss Burma. Rice has assumed the presidency of the UN Security Council for the month of April.
“Council members welcomed the successful by-election as a historic and critical step on the path to consolidating and strengthening Myanmar’s democratic reforms,” Rice told reporters after the Wednesday meeting.
“They praised the government and the opposition for their conduct of the by-election and for their commitment to moving the country forward,” she added. “Council members emphasized that Myanmar’s reforms were still fragile and nascent and in need of the international community’s support.”After Decades of Limits, Myanmar Offers Riches, New York Times, Apr. 12
One year into wide-ranging political reforms, this long-neglected city has some of the trappings of a boomtown.
Foreign businessmen in well-tailored suits are driven down potholed streets and past crumbling colonial buildings to meet potential partners, replacing adventure travelers in cargo pants and safari vests drawn by the city’s backwardness.
Hotel owners, whose businesses suffered during years of military rule and economic mismanagement, are raising prices for what few rooms they have available. And property prices in some areas in and around the city, the country’s economic capital, have tripled over the past year. “Myanmar has a high growth potential and could become the next economic frontier in Asia,” said Meral Karasulu, an official at the International Monetary Fund in Washington who led a mission here in January.Webb Calls for Speedy End to Sanctions, Irrawaddy, Apr. 12
US Senator Jim Webb paid tribute to the democratic reform process underway in Burma and said that trade sanctions should be lifted “as quickly as possible.”
The Virginia State politician told journalists during a Rangoon press conference on Wednesday that he met with members of both Burma’s Lower and Upper Houses of Parliament as well as leaders of political parties and prominent figures within the Burmese media. “We would like to see a time when the United States and [Burma] have full economic relations and diplomatic relations,” he said. “I personally believe that we should proceed as quicker pace as possible as long as we can also continue to have positive signs as we have seen over the past nine months.”Clinton Says Meaningful Progress Possible in Burma, Irrawaddy, Apr. 11
Observing that it is still too early to say how far the current phase of reforms in Burma will go, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Tuesday that the country now has a chance to achieve real progress.
“Burma offers a meaningful opportunity for economic and political progress. For decades, that Southeast Asian nation has been locked behind an authoritarian curtain while many other countries in the region made successful transitions to vibrant democracies and open markets,” Clinton said in her Forrestal Lecture at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
“For the United States, supporting these transitions has been one of our defining efforts in the Asia Pacific from South Korea to the Philippines to Thailand to Indonesia,” she said, adding that people often forget how hard it was for those four countries to make their transitions.
Leaders of ASEAN nations and other foreign countries, including the United States and European Union, have congratulated the Myanmar government and its people following the April 1 by-elections.
Minister for Foreign Affairs U Wunna Maung Lwin told his ASEAN counterparts in Phnom Penh on April 2 shortly before the ASEAN Summit that the by-elections had been conducted in a smooth and transparent manner, while President U Thein Sein also hailed the polls as a success.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi hailed a “new era” for Myanmar and called for political unity after her party swept to victory in the April 1 by-elections.
The National League for Democracy (NLD) won 43 of the 44 seats it contested in the by-elections and is set to become the main opposition force in the national parliament, following the release of official results on April 3.
Experts have cautioned on the need to maintain unity among differing political forces following by-election results that significantly strengthened the hand of the opposition movement.
“I am worried about unity among different political forces. The National League for Democracy (NLD) got a better result than we expected. It is vital for our country that this new situation does not hurt unity among the political forces,” said Maung Wuntha, a veteran journalist and political analyst..UN leader applauds ‘courage’ of president, Myanmar Times, Apr. 9
UN leader Ban Ki-moon last week hailed the “courage” of President U Thein Sein after an election that saw opposition icon Daw Aung San Suu Kyi elected to parliament.
Mr Ban said on April 2 that the election was a significant step but added that the government still had to “redouble” efforts to reach national reconciliation. Mr Ban congratulated Myanmar’s government and political parties for “the peaceful and largely orderly” by-elections on April 1 that saw Daw Aung San Suu Kyi win a parliamentary seat, said spokesman Martin Nesirky.Myanmar Meets With Rebels, Wall Street Journal, Apr. 8
The search for an end to one of Asia's longest-running guerrilla wars took a step forward when members of the Karen rebel movement met with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Sunday, a day after a rebel delegation met with President Thein Sein.
Ms. Suu Kyi's 2½-hour meeting shows that the new opposition in the country's Parliament considers resolving Myanmar's insurgencies as a key element in rebuilding the country and pulling it out from decades of international isolation. "These meetings will definitely support our efforts to achieve national reconciliation, and these meetings will help bring about a genuine democratic nation,'' Ms. Suu Kyi said after Sunday's meeting, the Associated Press reported.
Southeast Asian leaders called for Western countries to immediately lift punitive sanctions imposed on Myanmar now that the once-pariah nation has embraced democratic reforms, and the U.S. took steps in that direction.
The leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations made the call Wednesday after concluding an annual summit in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh. ASEAN member Myanmar was represented by President Thein Sein, who received a flurry of praise for his country's recent reforms, most recently Sunday's by-elections won by pro-democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi and her party. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said the appeal for sanctions to be lifted would first be relayed to the European Union, which punished formerly military-ruled Myanmar for massive human rights violations.
Following the political reforms he has unleashed, Burmese President Thein Sein is on the cusp of reaping a financial harvest from Japan—new loans for development assistance. A likely setting for the deal to be unveiled is an upcoming Japan-Mekong summit on April 21, when Thein Sein visits Tokyo to join government leaders from the four other Southeast Asian countries that share the Mekong River.ADB Says Myanmar Reforms To Spur Economic Growth, 4-traders, Apr. 11
Recent reforms in Myanmar are expected to boost the nation's economic growth to 6.0% this year and 6.3% in 2013 from 5.5% in 2011, the Asian Development Bank said Wednesday.
The launch of a new foreign exchange regime this month, investment incentives aiming to lure foreign direct investment, growing tourism revenues, a possible easing of sanctions and resumption of international assistance and concessionary financing are likely to boost Myanmar's economic growth, said ADB Country Director Thailand Resident Mission Craig Steffensen.
Myanmar's new exchange rate regime could push up price pressures, but inflation should remain under control as the government is expected to continue subsidizing basic utilities such as power and water, he said.
The new Labour Organisation Law will allow foreign workers and employers to chair the various levels of labour and employer organisations, according to the Ministry of Labour.
Section 5(a) and 5(b) of the Labour Organisation By-law states that foreigners who have been living in Myanmar for a minimum of five consecutive years in accordance with the acting laws and have a minimum of six months experience in a relevant field can be appointed to the executive committee of a labour organisation, U That Naing Oo, the director of the Department of Labour, said at a seminar in Yangon last month.
EXPORT industries could receive a significant boost with the European Union considering whether to remove the suspension of trade preferences against Myanmar-made goods.
The bloc’s Foreign Affairs Council are to meet on April 23 to discuss removing other punitive measures, such as bans on trade and investment in certain sectors. The European Union (EU) commissioner for trade said last week that the EU would consider lifting the GSP suspension only after it had received a report from the International Labour Organisation on forced labour.
Trade agreements worth US$310 million were signed between Chinese and Myanmar companies during the China Guangxi Products Exhibition in Yangon from March 30 to April 2, a senior Guangxi official said.
“Trade agreements worth $310 million were signed by 20 Chinese companies during a ceremony on March 30,” said Guangxi Vice-Governor Yang Daoxi in an interview while visiting Aung Gyi Group of Companies showroom and office at the Shwe Lin Ban Industrial Zone, in Yangon’s Hlaing Tharyar township.Thailand to hold trade exhibition in Yangon, Myanmar Times, Apr. 9
Thailand's embassy in Myanmar will be supporting an exhibition of Thai products and services at the Tatmadaw Hall in Yangon from April 7 to 10, an embassy official said last week.
Prajuab Supinee, commercial counselor at the Thai embassy in Yangon, said the exhibition would feature more than 160 stalls from Thai small- and medium-sized companies that were looking to enter the marketplace in future.
He added that the first two days of the exhibition would also feature business matching sessions between Thai and Myanmar companies. Thailand might be one of Myanmar’s major trading partners but incoming Thai businesspeople have a limited understanding of doing business here, said Mr Prajuab Supinee, commercial counsellor at the Thai embassy in Yangon.
EnergyInsight: Myanmar's power struggle endangers economic boom, Chicago Tribune, Apr. 15
The banging of Win Maung's hammer echoes across the farming village of Kya-oh in parched central Myanmar, as twilight descends upon its thatched-roof homes.
His arms and legs streaked in oil, the 48-year-old is struggling to repair a 22-horsepower diesel engine in a wheezing generator, the only power source for about 200 villagers whose homes will soon be enveloped by darkness. It is a familiar scene in rural Myanmar. "I'm not sure it can be fixed quickly. I'm not sure what the problem is," he says.
Myanmar will take its first steps to develop its capital markets after enlisting the help of the Tokyo Stock Exchange and Daiwa Securities to develop a securities exchange.
The two Japanese groups confirmed on Thursday that they had signed a memorandum of understanding with the Central Bank of Myanmar to provide expertise to build and operate a securities market.
The agreement comes amid a range of economic and political reforms from the government in the past year, including releasing political prisoners, loosening media controls and allowing civil protests. The European Union is considering whether to ease trade restrictions later this month. If sanctions are lifted, many multinationals may pile into the resource-rich country, where the economy is forecast to grow at 6 per cent this financial year.Myanmar to set up securities exchange with Japan's help, Reuters, Apr. 11
Myanmar will set up a security exchange with the help of the Tokyo Stock Exchange and Daiwa Securities Group as the resource-rich nation hunts for foreign investors after decades of isolation.
Daiwa and the TSE announced their plans to establish an exchange with Myanmar's central bank in a statement on Wednesday. They did not provide details but a Japanese source with knowledge of the matter said they were aiming to launch the bourse in 2015.
For your information, a transcript of the press conference given by Prime Minster David Cameron and Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma, Friday April 13th and reference to the EU Foreign Affairs Council on April 23rd, at which a decision may be taking on a suspension of sanctions.
Today, we can see, in your country, that there are changes taking place, reforms taking place, that I know you welcome, and that we welcome. And that is one of the reasons I wanted to come today, because we care about what happens in your country. It is an incredibly beautiful country with extraordinary people. It shouldn’t be as poor as it is. It shouldn’t have suffered under dictatorship for as long as it has, and things don’t have to be that way. And there is the real prospect of change. I’m very much committed to working with you and trying to help make sure that your country makes those changes.
I met with President Thein Sein today. And I think there are prospects for change in Burma, and I think it is right for the rest of the world to respond to those changes. Of course, we must respond with caution, with care. We must always be sceptical and questioning, because we want to know those changes are irreversible. But, as we’ve discussed, I think it is right to suspend the sanctions that there are against Burma – to suspend them, not to lift them, and obviously not to include the arms embargo. Because I do think it’s important to send a signal that we want to help see the changes that can bring the growth of freedom, of human rights and democracy in your country.
Clearly, there are still so many things that need to happen. It is good that some political prisoners have been released, but we want to see more political prisoners released. It is good that you have had the by-elections – and many congratulations on your successful elections – but clearly we all look forward to the general election in 2015. It is good that there has been some progress with the terrible ethnic conflicts that have harmed this country for so many years; but clearly we need to see a real political solution to those conflicts in the months and the years to come.
Let me just end again by saying what an inspiration it is to have followed your struggle, to have watched your incredible courage and the light that you have shone to all those around the world who want to see freedom, democracy and greater human rights. What’s happening here in Burma, I believe, shows that these things can happen, and they can happen in a peaceful way; and that is something we should be hugely encouraged by. Burma not only needs political progress, but it desperately needs economic progress and greater wealth too. It is a tragedy that one in three children in this country is malnourished, and that there is so much poverty. And I’m committed that Britain should do what it can to help not only with political progress, but also development and economic progress too.
But thank you again for giving me such a warm welcome today – it is an honour to stand by your side.
AUNG SAN SUU KYI
I support the suspension rather than the lifting of sanctions, because this would be an acknowledgment of the rule of the President and other reformers. This suspension would have taken place because of the steps taken by the President and other reformers, and it would also make it quite clear to those who are against reform that, should they try to obstruct the way of the reformers, then sanctions could come back. So this would strengthen the hand of the reformers – not just the suspension, but the fact that there is always a possibility of sanctions coming back again if the reformers are not allowed to proceed smoothly.
We in Burma have always appreciated the help that friends have given us over these last decades, especially Britain and other very close friends. They have always understood our need for democracy, our desire to take our place in the world, and the aspirations of our people. And we have always shared in the belief that what is necessary for Burma is an end to all ethnic conflict; respect for human rights, which would include the release of political prisoners; and the kind of development aid which will help to empower our people and take our country further towards the road to genuine democracy.
I’m very, very happy to be able to welcome all of you – not just the Prime Minister, but all of you who are here today – to Burma, and as this is the time of the water festival, it will give you a good opportunity to wash away all your sins, should you have any – perhaps you don’t have any – and to get yourself nice and pure and happy for the New Year that will be coming on 17th April. That is the first day of the Burmese New Year – 1374. And I very much hope that this is a year which will not only bring happiness to the people of Burma, democracy to our country, but also closer and better friendship between our countries. Thank you.
And let’s not forget how far things have come. We’re standing in a house where you were, for decades, under house arrest. You’re sitting in a garden where you were barely allowed to walk or to stand.
AUNG SAN SUU KYI
AUNG SAN SUU KYI
AUNG SAN SUU KYI
But I think it’s right to take this step. If we really want to see the chance of greater freedom and democracy in Burma, we should respond when they take action and if they keep moving the ship of economic reform forward and the ship of political reform forward then we should be prepared to respond. That is the right thing to do. It may be a bold thing to do but for the sake of a country that has been crying out for freedom after decades of dictatorship and that is crying out for a stronger economy after so much grinding poverty, it must be worth taking that risk and taking that step.
AUNG SAN SUU KYI
AUNG SAN SUU KYI
AUNG SAN SUU KYI
AUNG SAN SUU KYI
AUNG SAN SUU KYI
AUNG SAN SUU KYI
But this sanction – let me be clear – this covers everything apart from the arms embargo and any other specific measures that Britain itself would have put in place in terms of discouragement. So I think this is a very clear message, but let me be absolutely clear: we know there is still much, much more that needs to be done. As the President himself has acknowledged, there are more changes that need to be made. We are not starry-eyed or credulous about this, we know what a long road needs to be travelled between now and 2015 but the right thing to do for the world is to encourage this change and to believe in the possibility of peaceful progress towards democracy.
So we are committed to Burma. We are a friend of Burma. We want to see your country succeed. We think there is immense potential. We think you have struggled and suffered for too long under dictatorship, that you deserve the dignity, the freedom, the choice, the democracy and that economic progress can bring and we want to be your partners in helping you to achieve that.
AUNG SAN SUU KYI