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Burma President Ends US Trip With Trade Deal

In front of a bust of Martin Luther King, Jr., Burma President Thein Sein meets with President Barack Obama, not pictured, the White House, Washington, May 20, 2013.
Burmese President Thein Sein has ended a landmark visit to Washington by securing a trade agreement with the Obama administration and meeting several prominent members of Congress.

A member of Thein Sein's delegation, deputy Burmese commerce minister Pwint San, signed the agreement with acting U.S. Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis on Tuesday.

Marantis' office said the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement calls for the United States and Burma to identify business "initiatives" that support ongoing Burmese reforms and development projects that benefit the Burmese people, including the poorest. No specifics were provided.

Burma wants the United States to lift remaining sanctions on Burmese products and encourage U.S. businesses to invest in the Southeast Asian nation. The United States imported just $1 million worth of Burmese products in the first quarter of this year, while exporting $89 million worth of U.S. products to Burma. Burmese trade with the world totaled about $20 billion last year.

Before departing Washington on Tuesday, President Thein Sein also met with several lawmakers who have influenced U.S. relations with Burma, including Senators Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell and Lindsay Graham. There was no immediate word on what they discussed.

Some U.S. lawmakers have said they will try to slow the process of lifting U.S. sanctions on Burma to keep the pressure on Thein Sein to release more political dissidents and stop alleged rights abuses against Burma's ethnic minorities.

The U.S. Trade Representative's office said it also will work with the Thein Sein government to make further improvements in the protection of worker rights.

During a Monday meeting at the White House, President Barack Obama praised the ex-military general for leading a series of dramatic political and economic reforms since taking office in 2011.

"We very much appreciate your efforts and leadership in leading Myanmar in a new direction and we want you to know that the United States will make every effort to assist you on what I know is a long and sometimes difficult but ultimately correct path to follow," he said.

Besides offering economic benefits, President Thein Sein's trip also has important symbolic value. He is the first Burmese head-of-state to visit the U.S. in nearly 50 years.

Some rights groups argue that offering such a distinction to Burma's military dominated government sends the wrong message and wastes valuable leverage that could be used to push for more democratic reforms.