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

US Imposes Sanctions on Alleged Honduran Drug Gang

Treasury department alleges Los Valles group is responsible for smuggling tens of thousands of kilograms of cocaine into US each month More

At 91, Marvel Creator Stan Lee Continues to Expand his Universe

Company's chief emeritus hopes to interest new generation of children in superheroes of all shapes and sizes by publishing content across multiple media platforms More

Photogallery New Drug Protects Against Virus in Ebola Family

Study by researchers at University of Texas Medical Branch, Tekmira Pharmaceuticals is first looking at drug's effectiveness after onset of symptoms More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebolai
X
George Putic
August 20, 2014 8:57 PM
While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ferguson Calls For Justice as Anger, Violence Grips Community

Violence, anger and frustration continue to grip the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Protests broke out after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on August 9. The case has sparked outrage around the nation and prompted the White House to send U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to the small community of just over 20,000 people. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas has more from Ferguson.
Video

Video Beheading Of US Journalist Breeds Outrage

U.S. and British authorities have launched an investigation into an Islamic State video showing the beheading of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by a militant with a British accent. The extremist group, which posted the video on the Internet Tuesday, said the murder was revenge for U.S. airstrikes on militant positions in Iraq - and has threatened to execute another American journalist it is holding. Henry Ridgwell has more from London.
Video

Video Family Robots - The Next Big Thing?

Robots that can help us with daily chores like cooking and cleaning are a long way off, but automatons that serve as family companions may be much closer. Researchers in the United States, France, Japan and other countries are racing to build robots that can entertain and perform some simpler tasks for us. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.

AppleAndroid