Aung Sang Suu Kyi’s historic visit in her new capacities as State Counsellor and Foreign Minister is testament to the far-reaching change Burma has undergone in the past few years. Burma now has a civilian-led, democratically elected government focused on bringing peace and national reconciliation, economic prosperity and social welfare, and respect for human rights to its people.
Building on this progress and in close coordination with the new government, President Obama has decided to make significant adjustments to our policies to help State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, her government, and the people of Burma continue their process of political reform and broad-based economic growth and prosperity. These changes include: forthcoming termination of the national emergency with respect to Burma, reinstating Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) benefits for Burma, establishing a U.S- Myanmar Partnership, expanding people-to-people ties, deepening bilateral economic engagement, continuing to work toward an Open Skies Treaty, and initiating a new USAID loan portfolio guarantee.
Terminating the National Emergency
President Obama’s announcement that he will terminate the national emergency with respect to Burma, which has been in place since 1997, reflects Burma’s tremendous progress toward democratic consolidation and our continued commitment to help the new government deliver on expectations for democracy and economic growth.
The economic and financial sanctions imposed on Burma under the national emergency were intended to encourage democratic transition. The forthcoming termination of the national emergency will serve to recognize the enormous transformation Burma has achieved through the democratic election of a civilian-led government and its commitment to achieving peace, national reconciliation, and inclusive economic growth. In terminating the national emergency, all of the restrictions implemented by the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) will no longer be in effect, including the removal from OFAC’s Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (SDN) List of individuals and entities designated pursuant to the Burma sanctions program (although some Burmese SDNs may remain designated under other OFAC authorities).
The forthcoming termination of the national emergency does not end our commitment to support ongoing democratic consolidation in Burma. With the Government of Burma as a democratic partner, however, the United States will have more constructive channels and tools to support change and progress. The United States will use all of our available engagement tools to deepen democratic gains, promote good governance and transparency, and strengthen democratic institutions.
For additional information on the specifics on the termination of this measure, please see our “National Emergency Fact Sheet.”
Reinstating of GSP Benefits
The President signed a proclamation that designates Burma as eligible for trade benefits under the GSP trade preferences program. We believe this step has the potential to make an important contribution to goals we share with the new government: creation of jobs; reduction of poverty in a country with a per capita income estimated to be $1,280, the second-lowest figure in ASEAN and East Asia; and ultimately, the success of democratic reform.
This action will take effect on November 13, 2016 following a 60-day Congressional notification period.
For additional information concerning the reinstatement of GSP benefits, we refer you to the press release from the United States Trade Representative’s Office.
Establishing U.S.-Myanmar Partnership
On September 14, 2016, President Obama and State Counsellor Aung Sang Suu Kyi launched the U.S.-Myanmar Partnership to enhance cooperation, based on mutual respect and common interests. Acknowledging the dramatic transformations that have taken place in Burma, including the inauguration of a democratically-elected government, the announcement of a new partnership reflects our shared desire to build a broad, forward-looking relationship between our two countries.
The Partnership will provide a framework for advancing key priorities in our bilateral relationship, and will create mechanisms for cooperation in areas including political and diplomatic relations, trade and economic ties, science and technology, education and training, environment and health, defense and security, protection and promotion of rule of law, human rights, and people-to-people connections.
In support of the U.S.-Myanmar Partnership, the two countries will hold annual meetings led by the U.S. Department of State and Burma’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The location of the meetings will alternate between the two countries.
The key thematic areas of engagement could include:
- Supporting Burma’s efforts to achieve peace and national reconciliation
- Building a strong economic and commercial partnership
- Promoting inclusive economic development that benefits the people of Burma, protects its environment, and builds resilient communities
- Encouraging Burma’s democratic transition and support for the protection of human rights and the rule of law
- Building people-to-people and educational ties
- Cooperating on regional, multilateral, and global issues
Expanding People-to-People Ties
The United States seeks to strengthen people-to-people ties with Burma by multiplying the connections between the young people of our two countries, including through the President’s Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI). Recognizing that 55 percent of Burma’s population is under age 30, the United States intends to engage the next generation of young leaders through the full range of U.S. exchange programs, including by providing a 50 percent increase in funding for educational advising to encourage and assist more Burmese students to study in the United States. The funding would expand our reach to more states and regions across Burma, including funding a new advisor in Mandalay.
We will also strengthen English language teacher capacity in Burma through additional direct training for 1,500 English Access Micro-scholarship teachers and other Burmese English language educators from across the country. The training will include workshops and networking opportunities with subject experts on modern teaching methodologies.
Finally, we will also launch a new International Visitor Leadership Program — the U.S. Department of State’s premier professional exchange program – focused primarily on engaging Burmese participants on models of democratic federalism.
Deepening Bilateral Economic Engagement
The United States and Burma recognize their shared interest in enhancing bilateral economic engagement and exchanging views on laws and practices that affect bilateral investment flows and foreign investment, including the elements of a high-standard Bilateral Investment Treaty.
New Loan Portfolio Guarantee
In Burma, a lack of access to credit is one of the largest constraints to small business growth: 74 percent of formal enterprises and 58 percent of informal enterprises lack access to credit. To address this constraint, USAID/Burma intends to launch a Development Credit Authority (DCA) loan guarantee program with five microfinance institutions, mobilizing over $10 million in loans. This DCA guarantee will target micro, small, and medium-sized businesses working in agriculture, livestock/poultry, and trade and other post-production services. This program will increase the availability of and access to food. It will also foster economic growth and business development involving some of Burma’s poorest people. Many of the targeted enterprises are expected to be owned or operated by women. This loan program will be accompanied by technical assistance to both the microfinance institutions and the government on regulatory changes needed to expand access to credit.
Initiative to Promote Fundamental Labor Rights and Practices in Burma
The U.S. Government is working with Burma and partners in the international community to develop and support new tools to help Burma improve fundamental labor rights and set a strong foundation for sustainable growth and development.
Launched in 2014 during President Obama’s visit to Burma, the governments of Burma, the United States, Japan, Denmark, the European Union, and the International Labor Organization are working together on a joint Initiative to Promote Fundamental Labor Rights and Practices in Burma. The Initiative is intended to help modernize Burma’s labor code, improve compliance with international labor standards, and foster a robust dialogue between the government, business, labor and civil society.
At the first Stakeholder Forum in 2015, the Government of Burma and partners committed to an ambitious agenda of labor law reforms, stakeholder consultations, and efforts to build enforcement capacity. The newly elected government has reiterated its strong support for the approach and will convene the 2nd Stakeholder Forum September 29-30 in Yangon.
Peace Corps’ Burma Program
The United States and Myanmar look forward to the arrival of the first group of Peace Corps volunteers later this month, who will train English teachers as well as teach students in middle and high schools.
Global Health Security Agenda
The United States and Burma are committed to advancing global health security. In 2017, Burma will complete and publish a Joint External Evaluation (JEE) of national capacity to prevent, detect, and respond to infectious disease threats. The United States completed and published a JEE in 2016. President Obama hopes that together we can make significant progress on the goals of the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) this year as partners in building capacity against the threat of infectious disease.
The United States seeks enhanced ASEAN regional engagement and domestic member state action through the GHSA, to help build the capacities necessary to prevent, detect, and respond to infectious disease threats regardless of source. In particular, we are encouraging ASEAN member states to take advantage of the World Health Organization’s JEE process, the World Organization for Animal Health’s Performance of Veterinary Services Pathway Standards, and other technical expertise from donors interested in the region, including the Republic of Korea, United States, and other G-7 members.
These are global objectives, but the work is particularly critical in the ASEAN region. The issue is not that ASEAN governments are recalcitrant or unaware of the threats – rather they are dealing with risks that are extremely complicated and getting more so. Several serious infectious diseases are endemic (found naturally in the environment). Key conditions in the region – including population density, human-animal contact, international travel, climatic conditions, and limitations in health infrastructure – are increasingly favorable to the spread of disease.