Print options

May 17, 2012

US Suspends All Economic Sanctions on Burma

by Scott Stearns

STATE DEPARTMENT - The United States is lifting all of its economic sanctions against the military-led government in Burma following the election to parliament of long-time pro-democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi. Washington will be sending its first ambassador to Burma in more than 20 years.

 

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the suspension of bans on U.S. financial transactions, investments, and access to credit in a meeting with Burmese Foreign Minister U Wunna Maung Lwin.


U.S. economic sanctions against Burma, enacted 15 years ago, were suspended by Washington May 17,2012. They include:

  • Visa bans
  • Restrictions on financial services
  • Ban on Burmese imported goods
  • Ban on American investments in Burma
  • Constraints on U.S. assistance to Burma
  • The U.S. arms embargo on Burma stays in effect.

"This is a moment for us to recognize that the progress which has occurred in the last year toward democratization and national reconciliation is irreversible, as the minister said to me. The United States wants to do everything we can to be sure that is the reality," she said. 

 

Secretary Clinton praised the parliamentary elections that brought Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition party to parliament, but said some U.S. measures, including an arms embargo, will remain in place until the country's reforms are complete.

 

In a video conference via Skype, hosted by former U.S. president George W. Bush, Aung San Suu Kyi said the suspension of U.S. sanctions against Burma, rather than their full removal, will keep the pressure on the military to stay on track with political reforms.

"I sometimes feel that things, that people are too optimistic about the scene in Burma. You have to remember that the democratization process is not irreversible. I have said very openly that we can never look upon it as irreversible until such time as the military commits itself to democratization," she said. 

In addition to the targeted sanctions, Burma is currently subject to certain sanctions specified in U.S. laws based on various functional issues. They include:

  • Visa bans
  • Restrictions on financial services
  • Ban on Burmese imported goods
  • Ban on American investments in Burma
  • Constraints on U.S. assistance to Burma
  • The U.S. arms embargo on Burma stays in effect.
 

With abundant natural resources, Burma is ripe for new business. And Secretary Clinton called on U.S. investors to look for opportunities across the country to benefit ethnic minority areas as well.

 

"Today we say to American business: Invest in Burma. And do it responsibly. Be an agent of positive change," she said. 

 

Aung San Suu Kyi says spreading new investments more equitably will help ease some of Burma's ethnic inequalities.

 

At Washington's Brookings Institution, Lex Rieffel says too much investment too quickly could overwhelm Burma. "To be successful, this has to be done carefully. What is happening right now is that the country is being over-run with visitors. It is being smothered in love. This is making it more difficult for the government to make good policy decisions," he said. 

 

Some Burmese activists fear the United States is moving too fast. An ASEAN inter-parliament caucus on Burma is urging Washington to maintain all of its business sanctions, warning that a flood of new investment could fuel further human rights abuses and undermine democratic reforms.