Economic sanctions can no longer power Myanmar’s democratic transition, US ambassador says

US Ambassador to Myanmar Scot Marciel yesterday defended the decision to purge the sanctions list, referring to the embargoes as no longer politically expedient and a constraint on trade between the two countries.

“The cost of maintaining sanctions is greater than that of easing the sanctions,” he said, adding that the decision had been thoroughly weighed.

US President Barack Obama made the surprising announcement last week that nearly all remaining sanctions on Myanmar would be lifted “soon”.

The US has imposed economic sanctions against Myanmar for nearly 20 years. The Obama administration began to unravel the blacklist starting in 2012.

But the emergency order underpinning the vast remainder of the sanctions has been renewed annually, including in May. Mr Obama pledged on September 14 to lift the order.

Maintaining economic sanctions against Myanmar has been a “high cost” endeavour, Mr Marciel said, adding that the embargoes were imposed in order to support the country’s democratic transition while it was under the brutal dictatorship of a then-military regime.

“The presence of economic sanction has discouraged investments and trade [between the two countries],” he said.

He was unable to elucidate a timeline for the erasure of the US Treasury Department’s Specially Designated Nationals list. The SDN list includes individuals and businesses that were formerly considered by the government of the United States as slowing and thwarting democratic progress.

“All of the 104 SDNs [individuals and companies] will be off the list when the sanctions are lifted,” Mr Marciel said. “But drug kingpins will remain.”

Elaborating the US government’s approach to the democratically elected government, Mr Marciel said the fundamental policy of US engagement with Myanmar will not change.

“Specific tools will change,” he said.

“Tools such as GSP [Generalized System of Preferences] are more helpful” and effective now than the “tool” of sanctions, he said.

He added that the shift will support “broad-based economic growth”, which in turn will fuel job creation in the country.

However, fostering the bilateral relationship does not yet mean a change in military-to-military ties.

“We are taking a cautious, careful approach to the military-to-military relationship,” he said.

Rights groups responded to the sanctions announcement by slamming the US government as capitulating political leverage in favour of business interests.

“The US clearly wants to be able to invest and compete in Myanmar’s market of human and natural resources and benefit strategically with a strong economic partnership. They fear that restricting investment through sanctions and reporting requirements will put them at a competitive disadvantage in the region and jeopardise the ‘Pivot to Asia’,” said Daniel Aguirre, a legal adviser based in Myanmar with the International Commission of Jurists.

Transparency watchdog Global Witness has called for new safeguards to be put in place on the notorious and abusive jade and gems industries so that the sanctions removal does not further line the pockets of Myanmar’s military elite.

Mr Marciel countered that his government will continue to encourage transparent and accountable investment in Myanmar.

He added that the Myanmar government still has much work ahead of it in promoting human rights, rule of law and peace and national reconciliation, as well as in fighting the illegal narcotics trade and resolving the situation in Rakhine State.


Source: Myanmar Times


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