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.
    Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Busi
    X
    July 28, 2016 4:16 AM
    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Bus

    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Silicon Valley: More Than A Place, It's a Culture

    Silicon Valley is a technology powerhouse and a place that companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple call home. It is a region in northern California that stretches from San Francisco to San Jose. But, more than that, it's known for its startup culture. VOA's Elizabeth Lee went inside one company to find out what it's like to work in a startup.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Philadelphia Uses DNC Spotlight to Profile Historic Role in Founding of United States

    The slogan of the Democratic National Convention now underway in Philadelphia is “Let’s Make History Again” which recognizes the role the city played in the foundation of the United States in the 18th century. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, local institutions are opening their doors in an effort to capitalize on the convention spotlight to draw visitors, and to offer more than just a history lesson.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora