Friday, December 2, 2011

Summarizing US Burma Sanctions

During US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ‘s visit to Myanmar, a limited number of Burma sanctions were lifted by the US government, namely allowing IMF and World Bank assessment programs, and some UN development aid.  This falls short of allowing aid for ASEAN-related  regional integration projects, as I have urged, but it’s a start.

I’ve been asked a lot of questions about what US sanctions apply to Myanmar, and to what extent the Obama administration can withdraw the sanctions partially or wholly without Congressional approval.  There is a myriad of legislation and executive orders, which are explained in detail here.  Besides the now lifted ban on multilateral assistance to Myanmar, the United States imposes the following measures:

  • a ban on new investment in Myanmar by U.S. persons and companies;
  • a ban on the importation of goods from Myanmar;
  • a freeze on U.S. assets of any designated Myanmar nationals connected with the Myanmar stat
  • a ban on property investment by certain Myanmar nationals connected with the Myanmar state
  • a prohibition on the provision of U.S. financial services to and from Myanmar;
  • a ban on assisting investment by third country entities in Myanmar;
  • a ban on purchasing shares in third country entities involved in resource extraction activities in Myanmar; and
  • a ban on visas for certain Myanmar nationals connected with the Myanmar state

Most of these measures were applied via a Presidential Executive Order which was extended in 2009.   The President can waive the sanctions upon notification of Congress.   The President can also terminate sanctions “permanently.”  Most notably, the import ban and asset freeze can be terminated “upon request of a democratically elected government in Burma” and when conditions in the 2003 Burma Freedom and Democracy Act regarding progress on human rights, release of all political prisoners, freedom of speech and the press, freedom of association, peaceful exercise of religion, democratic governance, country not designated as “a country of interest” for narcotics trafficking—have been met.  The import ban would expire one year from the date of enactment unless Congress passes a resolution renewing the ban for a one-year period before the expiration of the ban; length of renewal is limited to three years.  The investment ban can be terminated by the President if sanctions are “contrary to the national security interests of the United States.”

Thus, the Obama Administration has relatively wide discretion in applying the Burma sanctions, but the need to consult with Congress to waive or terminate them is a major limitation.  The ability of Congress to extend the import ban allows Congress to override the President as well.

I note that Secretary Clinton did not address the issue of Myanmar’s name during her visit, which remains a sensitive issueShe skirted the issue, apparently, referring to “this country”, a tactic reminiscent of a Seinfeld episode.  Hopefully, we can get the name game issue resolved soon, along with the naming of a resident U.S. ambassador (retiring Senator Jim Webb would be an excellent choice). 

NB: Based on further requests, I provide a summary of EU, Canadian and Australian sanctions below:

The EU imposes several measures including the following:

  • a ban on the sale or transfer of arms and weapons expertise to Myanmar;
  • visa restrictions on members of the Myanmar regime;
  • a ban on visas for certain Myanmar nationals connected with the Myanmar regime; and
  • a freeze on officials’ overseas assets.

These are subject to annual review, with the next review due in April 2012. However, the EU reserves the right to review and modify the sanctions at any time.

Canada imposes several measures:
  • a ban on all goods exported from Canada to Myanmar, excepting only the export of humanitarian goods;
  • a ban on all goods imported from Myanmar into Canada;
  • a freeze on assets in Canada of any designated Myanmar nationals connected with the Myanmar State;
  • a ban on new investment in Myanmar by Canadian persons and companies;
  • a prohibition on the provision of Canadian financial services to and from Myanmar;
  • a prohibition on the export of any technical data to Myanmar;
  • a prohibition on Canadian-registered ships or aircraft from docking or landing in Myanmar; and
  • a prohibition on Myanmar-registered ships or aircraft from docking or landing in Canada and passing through Canada.

Australia imposes measures more specifically against members of the Myanmar regime:
  • transactions involving the transfer of funds or payments to, by the order of, or on behalf of specified Myanmar regime figures and supporters are prohibited without the specific approval of the Reserve Bank of Australia;
  • restrictions on visas to travel to Australia by members of the Myanmar regime and their associates and supporters; and
  • an arms embargo against the Myanmar government.