WASHINGTON — The U.S. plans to lift more economic sanctions on Myanmar and restore trade benefits to the country under a U.S. trade preference program.
President Barack Obama made the announcements Wednesday while meeting in the Oval Office with Aung San Suu Kyi, state counsellor and de facto leader of Myanmar.
Obama cited progress in Myanmar’s move to a democracy from a former military junta. The country is formerly known as and often referred to as Burma.
The U.S. reinstated benefits for Myanmar under the U.S. Generalized System of Preferences. The GSP program provides duty-free benefits for more than 5,000 types of products from 122 designated countries and territories. While the entire GSP program does not cover most apparel and textile imports to the U.S., it does cover accessories, such as jewelry.
In addition, the administration recently moved to expand duty-free benefits for imported travel goods under GSP to a limited group of the poorest countries in the world. Industry officials said they expect Myanmar to become eligible for those benefits, as well.
Myanmar’s benefits under GSP will be reinstated effective on Nov. 13 after a 60-day Congressional-notification period.
“While there is more work to be done, including to address concerns regarding human trafficking, Burma has made important progress in recent years with respect to worker rights,” said U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman. “We see Burma’s democratically elected government giving new hope to its people, making commitments to continue implementing reforms that strengthen workers’ voices, and working to combat forced and child labor. We have partnered with Burma to support many of these reforms in the past and will continue to do so with GSP in place.”
The U.S. suspended Myanmar’s GSP benefits in 1989 due to worker rights concerns.
The government of Myanmar requested reinstatement in 2013, which led to a USTR review of the country’s compliance with all of the GSP eligibility criteria, particularly its recent record of labor reforms and strengthened worker protections, USTR said.
The easing of sanctions and restoration of some trade benefits follows moves the Obama administration has been making for several years. It waived a nine-year-old ban on imports from the country in 2012 as it began renewing economic ties with the country after the government made some reforms, including the release of political prisoners, enactment of labor laws permitting the formation of unions and passage of a foreign investment laws. Several major apparel and retail firms, many of which had to pull out of Burma in 2003 when the U.S. imposed a ban on imports from the country after a military junta began repressing human rights, have explored investing there, though obstacles still remain, according to industry experts.
In 2013, the U.S. and Myanmar signed a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement, launching a formal dialogue that could pave the way for the two countries to work toward a more comprehensive trade arrangement.