Myanmar Sanctions Eased as New Gov’t Takes Power

     WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration on Tuesday eased its targeted sanctions on Myanmar after its peaceful transition to a democratically elected government.
     The Treasury Department said it was removing seven state-owned enterprises and three state-owned banks from a blacklist and amending regulations to support trade and financial transactions with the country also known as Burma.
     However, it left sanctions in place on the country’s powerful military, which retains major economic interests.
     A new civilian government took power in April after the party of former political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi swept historic elections, ending five decades of direct military rule.
     “Burma reached a historic milestone over the last year by holding competitive elections and peacefully transitioning to a democratically-elected government. Our actions today demonstrate our strong support for this political and economic progress while continuing to pressure designated persons in Burma to change their behavior,” Adam Szubin, acting under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence said in a statement.
     “These steps will help to facilitate trade with non-sanctioned businesses and, in turn, help the people and government of Burma achieve a more inclusive and prosperous future.”
     The U.S. waived its longstanding bans on investment and trade in 2012 after Myanmar began political and economic reforms, but has retained restrictions on dozens of companies and individuals designated by Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, because they oppose reform or are implicated in human rights abuses and military trade with North Korea.
     The U.S. business lobby complains that despite the easing of those broad sanctions, doing business remains difficult in Myanmar, one of the last major untapped markets in Asia.
     Although several major U.S. firms like Coca-Cola, General Electric, Chevron and Caterpillar are now operating in Myanmar, U.S. investment of $248 million represents less than 1 percent of total foreign investment there, a much lower proportion than in other Southeast Asian countries.
     But human rights activists and some U.S. lawmakers had urged President Barack Obama to renew his authority to impose sanctions under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, which he did Tuesday. They cited continuing repression of stateless Rohingya Muslims and the military’s retention of political power.
     Under the current, junta-era constitution, the military controls three key government ministries and 25 percent of parliamentary seats.
     In a sign it was keeping up the pressure, Treasury said it was adding six companies to its list of Specially Designated Nationals, or SDN, that are barred from U.S. business dealings. The businesses are owned 50 percent or more by Stephen Law and Asia World Co. Ltd, a conglomerate he heads. Law had ties to the former ruling junta and has been accused of involvement in the drugs trade.
     The administration eased some bureaucratic requirements for U.S. businesses.
     It is preparing within weeks to increase from $500,000 to $5 million the threshold of U.S. investment in Myanmar that requires reporting to the State Department, according to U.S. officials who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the administration.
     The officials said that under measures announced Tuesday, dealings were now permitted with all Myanmar banks which have either been removed from the SDN list or covered by waivers. Three were taken off the list Tuesday are Myanma Economic Bank; Myanmar Foreign Trade Bank; and Myanma Investment and Commercial Bank.
     The following state-run companies were taken off: Myanmar Timber Enterprise; Myanmar Pearl Enterprise; Myanmar Gem Enterprise; No. 1 Mining Enterprise; No. 2 Mining Enterprise; No. 3 Mining Enterprise; and Co-Operative Export-Import Enterprise. Treasury said these companies are organized under civilian ministries or no longer exist.
     However, administration officials said a ban on the import of jade and rubies, one of Myanmar’s most lucrative industries, remains in place.
     Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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