I was in Washington, DC, this week. The main ASEAN-related issue discussed around town is whether Myanmar will have successful by-elections on April 1, and if so, to what extent the U.S. Burma sanctions will be lifted. Most observers expect Aung San Suu Kyi to get into the Myanmar parliament, but what she does after that remains a mystery. If she immediately calls for a complete end to the Burma sanctions, we can expect the U.S. Congress to respond in kind. However, most observers expect her to call for some moderated lifting of sanctions in order to maintain some leverage with the Myanmar regime. The religious and ethnic issues, which some conservative U.S. politicians had cited in their support of Burma sanctions, appears to be of lesser priority these days.
In any event, I expect the U.S. to also take its cue from what the EU does. The EU is scheduled in April to issue its annual review and renewal of its own sanctions. If the April by-elections are even reasonably successful, we can expect the EU to relax its own, looser sanctions later in the month. U.S. officials are aware that U.S. business will be losing out on opportunities in Myanmar and will at least offer some greater administrative clarity on what they can and cannot do. Nevertheless, the eventual lifting of U.S. Burma sanctions will take months to accomplish even on an expedited schedule.
Here’s some other ASEAN Economic Community news from this week:
- ASEAN members agreed to establish an ASEAN Energy Regulators’ Network (AERN). The AERN will coordinate energy trade within the regional bloc.
- ASEAN + 3 members proposed to double the size of the Chiang Mai Initiative foreign currency fund.
- The ASEAN Coordinating Council set up a working group to review Timor Leste’s application for ASEAN membership.
- The Stock Exchange of Thailand proposed an exemption from capital gains tax for transactions made on the ASEAN Link of cross-border securities trade in Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia and Vietnam. The exemption is intended to boost interest in the ASEAN Link. Also, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand signed a memorandum of understanding to expedite secondary listings on each others' exchanges.
- Japan accredited a new resident ambassador to ASEAN.