News

    As Sanctions Begin Easing, Burma's Economy Under Scrutiny

    A man uses an ATM machine at KBZ bank's head office in Rangoon, March 14, 2012.
    A man uses an ATM machine at KBZ bank's head office in Rangoon, March 14, 2012.

    The election success of Burma's opposition has led to the easing of some sanctions imposed by the United States and pressure from neighboring countries to drop them entirely. Although there is a surge in interest in Burma's economy from foreign investors, analysts warn there remain major economic and political challenges.

    Key Facts About Burma

    • Adopted a political system based on democratic principals in 2011 after almost five decades of military rule.
    • The new government is made up mostly of retired or serving generals.
    • Population is estimated at 55 million people.
    • The largest ethnic group is Burman, 68 percent of the population.
    • 89 percent of the population is Buddhist.
    • The military moved the capital from Rangoon to the newly-built city Naypyitaw in 2005.
    • At least 2 years military service is compulsory for men and women.

    This week, the United States dropped travel bans against some senior Burmese officials and eased restrictions on some U.S. investment and financial services.

    Positive reaction

    The moves were welcomed by the chief executive of the investment house Leopard Capital, Douglas Clayton.

    "We’re very bullish on the development and we believe that this is the beginning of Myanmar’s [Burma's] transformation into a modern economy and that there will be a role for foreign investors to play in that. Sanctions in the past should be unwound because the reasons for sanctions have been largely met," he said.

    Although the United States has said it is preparing to nominate an ambassador to the country, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the reform process still has a long way to go.

    ASEAN divided

    That position remains at odds with Burma’s neighbors in the Association of Southeast Asia Nations, who has called for an end to all sanctions.

    Despite that show of support from ASEAN, not all members are in agreement.

    ASEAN politicians within the ASEAN Inter-parliamentary Myanmar Caucus say the lifting of all sanctions could be premature, inviting instability within the country.

    Kraisak Choonhavan, Thailand representative within the Caucus, says ending fighting in ethnic minority regions should be the priority before sanctions are fully lifted.

    "These pressures [to ease sanctions] are strong and much stronger still, as it is represented by the ASEAN call for the lifting of sanctions to please the regime - which remains very much a vicious and undaunting regime on the maintenance of its absolute power over Shan State, Karen State, Kachin State [and] Mon State," said Kraisak Choonhavan.

    Human rights

    The Burmese government has been holding ceasefire talks with the Kachin and Karen in recent days. Rights organizations say on-going military operations have led to human rights abuses and attacks on civilians in Kachin state in recent months.

    Kraisak fears the NLD, Burma's main opposition party, having secured seats in the national parliament in the by-election, may turn its back on ethnic minority communities’ concerns.

    Other pro-democracy groups say sanctions should be lifted only after all political detainees are released. The Thailand based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) says there are still 900 political prisoners in jail.

    Human Rights Watch, in a release, called for caution in any easing of sanctions, saying while positive steps by Burma’s government should be matched by the European Union, there should be no “wholesale withdrawal of sanctions”.

    The rights group says a further easing on visa bans and increases in humanitarian and development assistance should be considered by European Union foreign ministers.

    While the sanctions may remain for now, there already has been a surge in tourism from foreigners eager for a first hand look at the country.

    Sean Turnell, an associate professor of economics at Australia’s Macquarie University, says Asian investors are already trying to capitalize on the foreign interest.

    "Asian investors have always been there of course. But some of them are getting excited about potential Western interest in the sense that if they see a great advance of Western tourists into the country then I think there’s a lot of Asian investors interested in hotels and tourist infrastructure," said Turnell.

    Burma’s economy in recent years has grown up with the sanctions, which has led to pain for some industries but benefits for others.

    Uneven benefits

    Academics and rights workers have argued the trade and financial sanctions hit workers in export-oriented industries such as textiles, forcing many who would prefer factory jobs into informal sectors such as entertainment or the sex industry.

    Aung Zaw, editor of the newsmagazine The Irrawaddy says there are many businessmen and state-owned enterprises that have benefited from the restricted economic competition resulting from the foreign sanctions.

    "There are some tycoons, those ministers, whose [business] is not competitive; particular those billionaires inside the country," he said. "They are not competitive enough and they don’t want to see sanctions being lifted because they are enjoying so much with the monopoly - they monopolize everything."

    But all analysts agree Burma faces major challenges and opportunities as it tries to rebuild an economy long mismanaged after five decades of military rule.

    Timeline of major political events in Burma

    Loading...
    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Jacvques
    April 06, 2012 4:43 PM
    Imeant to say the Us should negotiate a trade treaty with Burma that way the Myanmar govt woudl know what we waant and we would learn what they want. hence the american legislator could be fast tracked to repeal the sanctions.....

    by: Jacques
    April 06, 2012 4:38 PM
    An analyst said the sanctions on Burma where off a legislative nature and would be hard to lift. Great op for state dept to send a team to wrk with Myanmar legislators and set up a transparent business climate where internationall trade could flourish within an acceptable legal environment Quid pro quo sanctions for a structured business environment.

    by: Cả Thộn
    April 06, 2012 6:25 AM
    Money starts coming in and corruption starts coming out. Burmese must be in control or corruption will take the center stage there. Don't let what happening in Vietnam, happen in Burma

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora