News / Asia

Activists Wary of US Easing Ban on Burmese Imports

Newspaper Seller Oo Zay Yar, says all of Burma welcomes President Barack Obama's visit because of the hope he can spur economic, social, and political developments, Rangoon, Burma, November 12, 2012. (D. Schearf/VOA)Newspaper Seller Oo Zay Yar, says all of Burma welcomes President Barack Obama's visit because of the hope he can spur economic, social, and political developments, Rangoon, Burma, November 12, 2012. (D. Schearf/VOA)
x
Newspaper Seller Oo Zay Yar, says all of Burma welcomes President Barack Obama's visit because of the hope he can spur economic, social, and political developments, Rangoon, Burma, November 12, 2012. (D. Schearf/VOA)
Newspaper Seller Oo Zay Yar, says all of Burma welcomes President Barack Obama's visit because of the hope he can spur economic, social, and political developments, Rangoon, Burma, November 12, 2012. (D. Schearf/VOA)
Burma rights activists are greeting the U.S. decision to ease its ban on Burmese imports with caution, warning that rewarding the long-repressive government too rapidly could hinder sustainable reform.

The U.S. State and Treasury Departments say they are allowing Burmese goods that have been banned for nearly a decade to enter the United States as a way to support the Burmese government’s reform efforts and encourage further change. The decision does not affect the ban on Burmese jadeite and rubies, which will remain intact because of ongoing concerns about the trade, according to a joint statement.

Brian Leber, founder of the U.S.-based Jewelers’ Burma Relief Project, said although he is concerned many political and human rights issues remain unaddressed, he understands the Obama administration's view that you need to start somewhere.

“It's much easier to monitor sectors like textile production, where manufacturing centers in places like Rangoon can be inspected and monitored and any U.S. companies doing business directly with a producer in Burma can be held accountable, versus a sector like gemstones, which is somewhat unique in it's opacity, its circumvolutory path of getting goods to market, and it's a trade still rife with human rights violations and exploitation,” Leber said. 

Economic and political shifts

Burma’s economy has undergone extreme change over the past 70 years, going from being the region’s wealthiest country to becoming one of the world's poorest. The decline reflects Burma’s political shifts, marked by a military coup in 1962, the nationalization of all industries, and a repressive crackdown on democratic activists and ethnic minority groups. 

Since the 2010 elections, the new, nominally civilian government has moved to open the long-isolated country to foreign investment. The stigma of doing business with Burma has eased somewhat following the government’s release of political prisoners, relaxation of media censorship and inclusion of the political opposition in parliament.

Washington’s decision to ease its ban on Burmese imports and “offer new opportunities for Burmese and American businesses” came just days ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama’s scheduled visit to Rangoon Monday, the first by a U.S. leader. 

Mixed messages

Mabrur Ahmed, director of the British-based rights group Restless Beings, said the policy change is “sending confusing messages.” It “does not encourage holistic reform,  but reform in certain areas which are seen as worthy of American interest,” he said.

While opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is free from house arrest, Ahmed suggested the reforms have not reached Burma’s ethnic minority areas.

Clashes between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims have displaced tens of thousands of Muslims and left many dead in western Rakhine state. The area is also the site of a Chinese-backed oil pipeline project, which Ahmed blames for adding to the unrest.

“In order to accommodate the necessary machinery and mining facilities, it seems that an entire population of Kaman and Rohingya have been forcefully moved through razed villages to make way for such foreign trading facilities,” Ahmed said. “It is necessary that [while] Obama opens up trading links with Burma that he must instill and insist on the integrity and respect of human rights regardless of race, religion and ethnicity.”  

The Obama administration has said the president’s visit to Burma is not an endorsement of the government and that he will raise human rights issues while there.

Double-edged development

Leber said this will be critical as Burma plots its course forward. “Development can be a double-edged sword and extreme care must be taken to ensure that it is done responsibly, lest Burma suffer the ‘resource curse’ that has afflicted other regions in the world. Too much, too fast should be avoided,” Leber said.

The International Monetary Fund is projecting Burma’s economy will grow by 6.2 percent this year as foreign investors like MasterCard, the Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo sign deals, and ConocoPhilips and Chevron Corporation look to capitalize on the country’s oil and gas resources.

Leber said it is a good sign the Obama administration is upholding its ban on gems from Burma, as much of the jade and rubies that bring in millions of dollars for Burma’s leaders come from Kachin state, where a truce between the military and ethnic rebels has collapsed.

Burmese soldiers have “shot and killed other miners, gang-raped young girls to teach village elders the gem resources belong to the military, and basically turned Kachin state into a war zone,” Leber said. “The violence that is going on today is of the same type that inspired the sanctions in the first place.” 

The Burmese government has pledged to find a long-term solution to the violence in Rakhine state. A solution to the situation in Kachin remains elusive.

You May Like

Photogallery Snowstorm Sweeps Northeastern US

'This is nothing like we feared it would be,' New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio says; he had earlier warned storm could be one of worst the city has ever faced More

Millions of Displaced Nigerians Struggle With Daily Existence

Government acknowledges over a million people displaced in 2014 due to fight against Boko Haram insurgency More

Facebook: Internal Error to Blame for Outages

Temporary outage appeared to spill over and temporarily slow or block traffic to other major Internet sites More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visiti
X
Aru Pande
January 26, 2015 9:33 PM
U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visit

U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video US, EU Threaten New Russia Sanctions Over Ukraine

U.S. President Barack Obama has blamed Russia for an attack by Ukrainian separatists that left dozens dead in the port of Mariupol and cast further doubt on the viability of last year’s cease-fire with the Kyiv government. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington.
Video

Video White House Grapples With Yemen Counterterrorism Strategy

Reports say the U.S. has carried out a drone strike on suspected militants in Yemen, the first after President Barack Obama offered reassurances the U.S. is continuing its counterterrorism operations in the country. The future of those operations has been in question following the collapse last week of Yemen’s government. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Kerry Warns Against Violence in Nigeria Election

US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Nigeria Sunday in a show of the level of concern within the U.S. and the international community over next month’s presidential election. Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Zoo Animals Show Their Artistic Sides

The pursuit of happiness is so important, America's founding fathers put it in the Declaration of Independence. Any zookeeper will tell you animals need enrichment, just like humans do. So painting, and even music, are part of the Smithsonian National Zoo's program to keep the animals happy. VOA’s June Soh met some animal artists at the zoo in Washington. Faith Lapidus narrates.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Saudi, Yemen Developments Are Sudden Complications for Obama

The death of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and the collapse of Yemen’s government have cast further uncertainty on U.S. efforts to fight militants in the Middle East and also contain Iran’s influence in the region. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports on the new complications facing the Obama administration and its Middle East policy.
Video

Video Progress, Some Areas of Disagreement in Cuba Talks

U.S. and Cuban officials are reporting progress from initial talks in Havana on re-establishing diplomatic ties. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State (for Western Hemisphere Affairs) Roberta Jacobson said while there was agreement on a broad range of issues, there also are some “profound disagreements” between Washington and Havana. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins has the story.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid