The trade group representing the foreign trade interests of European retailers, importers and brand companies is urging the European Parliament to open European markets to Burmese products “without delay”.
The call comes after the European Commission in September took a step towards reinstating trade preferences for Burma/Myanmar, in a move that would give products such as clothing duty- and quota-free access to the European market for the first time since 1997.
The plan is to bring the country back under the so-called ‘Everything But Arms’ trade regime, which is part of the EU’s Generalized System of Preferences (GSP). It applies to Burma because it is classified as a Least Developed Country (LDC) by the United Nations.
However, the decision to grant GSP to Myanmar is still pending approval by the European Parliament.
“Trade is crucial to open the country to the world and ensure the efforts made towards an improved political and labor environment will have long lasting effects,” said FTA director general Jan Eggert.
The US has lifted a decade-long ban on most imports from Burma (also known as Myanmar), in a move that is likely to boost the country’s garment industry.
The easing of restrictions on November 16, is in response to reforms by the country’s military regime over the past year, and was made ahead of a historic visit by President Obama this week.
The import ban has been in place since 2003. Before the ban was introduced, garments made up the country’s largest exports to the US.
Burma has taken progressive steps over the past year to improve human rights and implement democratic reforms.
These steps have resulted in, among other things, the election of opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to the legislature.
In July, the US eased financial and investment sanctions against Burma, allowing the first new US investment in the Asian country for nearly 15 years.
Similarly, the European Union (EU) in April decided to suspend most of its trade and economic sanctions against the country.
And in September the European Commission took a step towards reinstating trade preferences for Burma with a plan to bring the country back under the so-called ‘Everything But Arms’ trade regime, which is part of the EU’s Generalized System of Preferences (GSP).
This would give products such as clothing duty- and quota-free access to the European market for the first time since 1997.
Financial and investment sanctions against the military regime in Burma have been eased by the US Obama administration, in response to reforms over the past year.
The enactment of the easing of the restrictions, announced in May this year, allows the first new US investment in the Asian country for nearly 15 years, and broadly authorizes the exportation of financial services to Burma.
The administration said: “The United States supports the Burmese Government’s ongoing reform efforts, and believes that the participation of US businesses in the Burmese economy will set a model for responsible investment and business operations as well as encourage further change, promote economic development, and contribute to the welfare of the Burmese people.”
The US also said that it would continue to support and monitor Burma’s progress, amid continuing concerns about the country’s record on human rights protection, corruption and the role of the military in the economy.
The new policy, it added, was designed to support democratic reform and reconciliation efforts, while helping to develop an economic and business environment that would benefit all Burma’s people.
The European Union (EU) is to suspend most of its sanctions against Burma/Myanmar for the next year in recognition of what it says are the “historic changes” that have taken place in the country over the past 12 months and in a bid to encourage the reforms to continue.
The decision announced April 23 by the European Council, will take effect later this week and include trade and economic sanctions, but will not include the embargo on arms sales, which will be retained.
The Council also said it would continue to “monitor closely the situation on the ground, keep its measures under constant review and respond positively to progress on ongoing reforms.”
Noting the “vital contribution” the private sector has to make to the development of Burma, the EU said it would welcome European companies exploring trade and investment opportunities in the country.
The Council also voiced its support for reinstating the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) for Burma “as soon as possible” once the International Labor Organization (ILO) has assessed its labor standards.
If GSP tariff preferences were reinstated, products such as clothing made in Burma would be eligible for duty-free access to the EU.
However, while acknowledging that progress has been made in Burma, the EU still acknowledged the need for further reforms, including freeing remaining political prisoners and removing restrictions on those already released. There are also ongoing concerns about human rights abuses.
It is also worth noting that the EU has suspended – rather than ended – sanctions, which suggests they could be re-imposed if reforms stall.
While by-elections held in Burma on April 1, were overwhelmingly won by pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and members of her National League for Democracy party, they have refused to take up seats in the parliament in a dispute over a parliamentary oath. Instead of promising to “safeguard” the constitution, they want to change the oath of office to “respect” the constitution.
The US, meanwhile, is moving more slowly than the EU in lifting sanctions. Earlier this month Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said some travel restrictions would be relaxed, and that there would be “a targeted easing of our ban on the export of US financial services and investment as part of a broader effort to help accelerate economic modernization and political reform” in the country.