U.S. Lifts Ban on Imports from Burma: Continued Efforts to Ease Burma Back into the Global Economy

Dec 06, 2012   

Just one day before President Barack Obama embarked on the first-ever trip to Burma by a sitting U.S. president, on November 16, 2012, the U.S. government removed most import restrictions on goods from Burma. This joint effort between the Department of State and the U.S. Department of Treasury will waive portions of the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act of 2003 to allow most Burma-origin goods into the American market for the first time in nearly a decade. These actions will be implemented by General License No.18 authorizing all Burma-origin imports except for jadeite, rubies, and any commodities specifically designated on U.S. black lists.

This lifting of certain trade restrictions marks the latest of several efforts by the United States and the international trade community to reintegrate Burma into the global marketplace, following severe trade restrictions that were initially placed on the country in the late 1980s for its government’s violent responses to opposition groups.

Canada, for example, lifted its ban on trade and investment in Burma in the Spring of 2012, including prohibitions on imports, exports, investment, the docking and landing of ships and aircraft, and the provision or acquisition of financial services.  It should be noted, however, that Canada has maintained an arms embargo and prohibitions against designated Burmese persons. Similarly, European foreign ministers approved a one-year suspension of the E.U. economic sanctions against Burma.

While companies have urged the present administration to formulate a plan to lift trade restrictions across all sectors of the Burmese economy, the U.S. is slightly more reluctant to move as swiftly as Canada and the E.U. in lifting Burmese sanctions. The Obama Administration has expressed intentions to pursue a calculated step-by-step process to reward the leaders in Burma for further reforms and to give the U.S. the flexibility to slow the process if Burmese reforms are delayed or reversed. As of April 4, 2012, the U.S. had lifted restrictions only on certain financial transactions in support of humanitarian, religious, and other non-profit activities authorized by the U.S. Department of Treasury.

The United States has recognized and rewarded Burma’s continued democratic and humanitarian reforms including the country’s April elections, release of political prisoners, increased press freedom and cease-fire agreements with armed ethnic groups. While the U.S. acknowledges these progressive steps, the most recent lift of import restrictions is a change in enforcement and not a full repeal of the legal framework that has authorized U.S. sanctions against Burma for almost 25 years. In a joint statement released by the U.S. Departments of State and Treasury, the agencies noted that “the U.S. government is closely monitoring and supporting Burma’s progress on reform, and the core authorities underlying our sanctions remain in place[d]espite positive changes, [we] remain concerned about corruption, remaining political prisoners, continued military ties to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and ethnic conflict.”

In a statement by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman, Dave Camp (R-Michigan), he noted, “While we’ve seen positive developments in Burma over the past few months, much work remains ahead. I encourage the Burmese Government to continue on its forward-looking trajectory and implement significant political and economic reforms in order to foster a truly free and prosperous Burma.” Democratic Senator Max Baucus (Montana) echoed these thoughts stating, “Burma has made real progress advancing democracy, but we need to maintain pressure to guarantee it continues.”

The President’s visit to Burma, an unthinkable prospect just two years ago, marked a “pivotal moment in Burmese history that embraced the progress that has been made and further encouraged the government and its people to move forward with their transition to democracy” said Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications, Ben Rhodes on a November 15th conference call regarding the presidents visit. Hopefully, the lifting of trade restrictions will be mutually beneficial for U.S. foreign relations and policy, Burmese domestic political infrastructure, and global trade as a whole.

Fuerst Ittleman David & Joseph, PL, has significant experience in trade law, sanction compliance programs, and in counseling our clients as to the best means to reap the benefits of changes in U.S. policies.  Contact us today for a free consultation.