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 Obama to Send 3,000 Troops to Liberia in Ebola Fight

At Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, President says US will take leadership role for a global response to deadly Ebola virus that is ravaging West Africa More

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

Muslims in Kunming say that they condemn the violence, it is not a reflection of the true beliefs of their faith More

Humanitarian Aid, Equipment Blocked in Cameroon

Move is seen as a developing supply crisis in West Africa 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.
NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Spacei
X
September 17, 2014 4:20 AM
The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Washington DC Mural Artists Help Beautify City

Like many cities, Washington has a graffiti problem. Buildings and homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are often targets of illegal artwork. But as we hear from VOA’s Julie Taboh, officials in the nation's capital have come up with an innovative program that uses the talents of local artists to beautify the city.
Video

Video US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State

Leaders of America's Muslim community are condemning the violent extremism of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Muslim leaders say militants are exploiting their faith in a failed effort to justify violent extremism. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Bedouin Woman Runs Successful Business in Palestinian City

A Bedouin woman is breaking social taboos by running a successful vacation resort in the Palestinian town of Jericho. Bedouins are a sub-group of Arabs known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Zlatica Hoke says the resort in the West Bank's Jordan Valley is a model of success for women in the region.


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