WASHINGTON — President Bush signed a bill Monday banning all imports from Myanmar — the bulk of which are garments — in response to its military dictatorship’s crackdown against the democratically elected opposition.

The House and Senate approved the sanctions bill in July after the ruling military junta in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in a violent clash. In addition to the import ban, the measure will freeze Myanmar assets in the U.S. and calls on other nations such as China and Thailand to cut off support for the government.

Apparel is the country’s main U.S. export, accounting for $326.1 million, or 159.7 million square meters equivalent, for the year ending May 30, according to the Commerce Department. Myanmar’s total exports to the U.S. were about $356 million in 2002.

Since the military seized power in 1988 and voided the elections in 1990, a growing number of U.S. retailers and other apparel importers have voluntarily halted business with Myanmar, where the military invests in the country’s garment production. In 1997, President Bill Clinton signed a ban on all new investment in the country, but apparel contracting at Burmese-owned or jointly owned ventures did not fall under that ban.

Deteriorating human-rights prompted the American Apparel & Footwear Association to call for an immediate ban on apparel, textiles and footwear imports from Myanmar in May. It is the first time the AAFA has taken a stance against a country where some of its members produced apparel and advocated a ban.

Despite the momentum against sourcing in Burma, there is still a sizable portion of apparel produced there for U.S. companies and shipped back to the U.S.

“I don’t know who these producers are,” said Kevin Burke, president and chief executive officer of the AAFA. “We as an association don’t encourage anyone to produce there. All of the major players in my association are out of there.”

Burke stressed that Bush’s endorsement Monday, which takes effect in 30 days, will send a message to the rest of the world that the U.S. won’t “tolerate abuse.”

“I don’t view this as an economic issue,” said Burke. “I view this as a moral issue. With all of the places in the world our members source, why go to Burma when the government treats its people like this?”Jeremy Woodrum, director of the Free Burma Coalition office here, a nonprofit group that organized a boycott to unseat the military regime, said, “Total apparel imports from Burma dropped from $411 million in 2001 to $303 million in 2002, but apparel imports were beginning to increase again this year. This legislation came at the right time.”

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