MYANMAR / WASHINGTON: The United States eased some sanctions on Myanmar on Tuesday to support political reforms and economic growth in the country but retained other measures to discourage human rights abuses and military trade with North Korea, US officials said.
The moves include easing restrictions on the country’s financial institutions, removing seven state-owned companies from the US blacklist and extending a measure that eases trade restrictions on Myanmar by allowing all shipments to go through its ports and airports indefinitely, even to ports and airports controlled by entities on the U.S. sanctions blacklist.
The Treasury is also allowing transactions related to moving goods inside the country, for instance from warehouses to retail outlets. The United States removed from its blacklist three state-owned banks – Myanma Economic Bank, Myanmar Foreign Trade Bank, and Myanma Investment and Commercial Bank – and is authorizing transactions with two other Myanmar banks that are still blacklisted, Innwa Bank and Myawaddy Bank.
That action means that most transactions with all Myanmar financial institutions will be allowed as of May 18, the Treasury said in a statement. Also removed from the U.S. blacklist are seven state-owned Myanmar business enterprises, including in timber, pearls and mining.
But the United States also strengthened measures targeting Steven Law, a man already blacklisted for alleged ties to Myanmar’s military. Six companies owned 50 percent or more by Law or the company he controls, Asia World, were added to Treasury’s blacklist.
The US moves followed a landmark November election in which the party of Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s Nobel Peace Prize laureate, won a landslide victory. A constitution drafted by the country’s former military rulers bars her from becoming president.
US officials began lifting trade and financial sanctions against the country after military leaders launched reforms that led to a civilian government being formed in 2011, beginning its transformation from a half-century as an international pariah.
The sanctions decision, reported by Reuters on Friday, came before a visit to the Southeast Asian nation by Secretary of State John Kerry on May 22.
President Barack Obama’s opening to Myanmar followed its peaceful transition to an elected government and is seen as one of his foreign policy achievements.
Obama, in a letter to Congress, said he was extending for one year the legal underpinnings for those sanctions that remain and provided his justification for doing so.
He said Myanmar had made significant progress on reforms since 2011, but that “concerns persist regarding continued obstacles to full civilian control of the government, the ongoing conflict and human rights abuses in the country, particularly in ethnic minority areas, and military trade with North Korea.”
The U.S. actions eased restrictions on Americans living in Myanmar, allowing them to conduct everyday transactions like paying rent, which the Treasury said would make it easier for engagement between the two countries’ citizens.