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

Turkey: No Ransom Paid for Release of Hostages Held by IS Militants

President Erdogan hails release of hostages as diplomatic success but declines to be drawn on whether their release freed Ankara's hand to take more active stance against insurgents More

Audio Sierra Leone Ends Ebola Lockdown

Health ministry says it has reached 75 percent of its target of visiting 1.5 million homes to locate infected, educate population about virus More

US Pivot to Asia Demands Delicate Balancing Act

As tumult in Middle East distracts Obama administration, efforts to shift American focus eastward appear threatened 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.
Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Towni
X
Deborah Block
September 21, 2014 2:12 PM
A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Alibaba Shares Soar in First Day of Trading

China's biggest online retailer hit the market Friday -- with its share price soaring on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares were priced at $68, but trading stalled at the opening, as sellers held onto their shares, waiting for buyers to bid up the price. More on the world's biggest initial public offering from VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid