News / Asia

    US Business Delegation Visits Burma

    U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs Jose Fernandez speaks at the Burma-U.S. economic conference in Rangoon, Burma, Feb 25, 2013. (D. Schearf/VOA)
    U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs Jose Fernandez speaks at the Burma-U.S. economic conference in Rangoon, Burma, Feb 25, 2013. (D. Schearf/VOA)
    Daniel Schearf
    Burma is hosting its largest delegation of American business executives since U.S. sanctions were eased last year.  Some of the 50 delegates attending a one-day conference expressed great hope, but also concerns, for increasing business ties. 

    The Burma and United States Chambers of Commerce on Monday welcomed warming business relations after years of economic restrictions.

    The two chambers held a one-day conference in Rangoon with the largest-ever delegation of U.S. companies, ranging from retail and restaurants to finance, insurance and extractive industries.

    Jose Fernandez, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs, told the conference Burma is taking concrete steps toward normalizing its financial relations with the international community.  

    "As we look toward a more prosperous future together, I would like to emphasize that we in the United States would like to establish broad and deep commercial and business ties with your country across a full range of sectors in your economy," said Fernandez. "But, I also would like to assure you that our efforts here are also part of a larger, regional strategy to integrate this country with trade to China, India, and Southeast Asia."

    The two chambers signed a memorandum of understanding to increase business ties.

    Fernandez said U.S. businesses would bring with them international business standards for transparency, labor rights, environmental protection, and land use. They would also provide jobs, raise living standards, and help sustainably develop Burma's rich natural resources.

    However, he also reminded attendees that U.S. economic sanctions, while suspended, would remain "on the books" in case Burma regresses on reform efforts.

    Those suspended sanctions remain a worry for some companies.

    Darren Brooks is Asia Pacific senior legal counsel for heavy machine maker Caterpillar, which sells products through a local dealer but is not yet manufacturing in Burma.  He says the restrictions are making them cautious on big investments.

    "Right now we would like to see more reliability or more stability in the fact that the sanctions have been lifted.  They are of course temporarily or conditionally lifted right now," said Brooks. "So, it's not like you can come in and invest $100 million right now.  The sanctions could come back tomorrow and we'd be right back where we were a couple of years ago."

    The U.S. imposed sanctions on Burma's former military government for abusing human rights and suppressing democracy movements. Burma's economy fell into stagnation under the trade restrictions and the military's economic mismanagement.

    The United States began easing limits on business last year as Burma's reform-minded President Thein Sein released hundreds of political prisoners and relaxed controls on the press and the right to protest.

    Burmese trade authorities are well aware how the threat of re-imposing sanctions makes outside investors wary.

    U Win Aung, President of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chamber of Commerce and Industry, says dropping the threat of sanctions is crucial to the country's future.

    "It is to be noted that total lifting of sanctions can only enable investors to come and invest without any hesitation in our new era of new economic development," said U Win Augn. "Our people are longing for a better livelihood."

    U.S. business delegates also expressed concern about Burma's infrastructure problems with electricity shortages and poor communication links. But others saw opportunity.

    Mai Trang Thanh is Vietnam country director for U.S. infrastructure company Honeywell.  She says Burma's lack of development reminds her of the time the U.S. embargo was lifted on Vietnam two decades ago.

    "When I first came to Myanmar a few months ago, the first impression was I can immediately recall my excitement of 19 years ago and I met with many people from the government to the private sector people and so I note that the whole country, the whole nation, is really favorable of U.S. support, same as my country 19 years ago," she said.

    Andrew Hodges is director of Asia Pacific emerging markets for software giant Microsoft.  He says they were still assessing opportunities in Burma, also known as Myanmar.

    "No big deals at this point in time.  But, we need to…we have a whole range of different programs that we want to look [at] as we explore newer markets.  And, we need to assess whether those programs are suitable for Myanmar and what we need to do to tweak those programs to suit Myanmar," said Hodges.

    To smooth financial transactions for U.S. businesses in Burma, Washington on Friday announced restrictions would be lifted on four banks in Burma.  

    Assistant Secretary Fernandez said allowing those banks access to the U.S. financial system was partly a result of companies and rights organizations complaining about lack of access to basic services such as checking accounts.

    He urged delegates to the conference to contact them if any problems or misunderstandings arise over remaining sanctions.

    You May Like

    Clinton, Trump and the 'Woman’s Card'

    Ask supporters of Democratic front-runner in US presidential campaign, and they’ll tell you Republican presidential candidate is playing a dangerous hand

    Russian Censorship Group Seeks Chinese Help to Better Control Internet

    At recent Safe Internet League forum in Moscow, speakers from both nations underscored desire for authorities to further limit and control information online

    Video Makeshift Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Free classes in Islamabad park serve a few of the country’s nearly 25 million out-of-school youths; NGO cites ‘education crisis’

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensions

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora