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

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Works to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Smithsonian senior research botanist Vicki Funk says ultimate goal is 'trying to get one-half of the diversity of plant life on Earth at the genus level in two years' More

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

Report from member of British think tank says Russian extradition requests keep targets from traveling More

US Lawmakers Weigh Turkish Anti-terror Moves

Turkey’s two-pronged campaign against Islamic State militants, Kurdish PKK forces provokes mixed reactions on Capitol Hill 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.
Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponentsi
X
Henry Ridgwell
July 28, 2015 9:53 PM
A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video Special Olympics Athletes Meet International Friends

The Special Olympics are underway in Los Angeles, California, with athletes from 165 countries participating in an event that gives people with intellectual disabilities the chance to take part in an international competition. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that for athletes and their families, it's also an opportunity to make new friends in an international setting.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Iran Nuclear Pact Wins Few New US Congressional Backers

Later this week, President Barack Obama returns from a trip to Africa to confront a U.S. Congress roiled by the nuclear accord with Iran, an agreement that has received the blessing of the U.N. Security Council. Days of intensive lobbying and testimony by top administration officials have won few new congressional supporters of the pact. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Critics of Japan Defense Policy Focus on Okinawa

In Okinawa, many locals have long complained that Tokyo places an unfair burden on the tiny island by locating most of Japan's U.S. military bases there. As Japan's government moves toward strengthening and expanding the country's defense policies, opponents of those plans are joining local protesters in Okinawa, voicing concern about where the country is headed. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Okinawa.
Video

Video IS Uses Chemical Weapons in Syrian Attack

Islamic State militants have added a new weapon in their arsenal of fear: chemical weapons. VOA Kurdish service reporter Zana Omer was on the scene within hours of a recent attack in Hasakah, Syria, and has details of the subsequent investigation, in this report narrated by Miguel Amaya.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs