The US Congress voted yesterday to extend the ban on imports from Myanmar. The import bans are authorized by the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act (BFDA) of 2003. Thursday’s US Congressional resolution extended authoritization for the BFDA ban for another three years, to July 2015. The resolution also extended the ban itself for another year, to July 2013 (note the distinction between the authorization for the ban and the ban itself). The ban can be renewed for another year by another Congressional resolution before July 2013.
The US President retains the ability to terminate the ban “upon request of a
democratically elected government in Burma” and when conditions in Section (3)(a)(3) of the BFDA — progress on human rights, release of all political prisoners, freedom of speech and the press, freedom of association, peaceful exercise of religion, democratic governance, not designated as “a country of interest” for narcotics trafficking—have been met. That would require the Administration to submit a formal report to Congress on bilateral and multilateral efforts to promote human rights and democracy in Myanmar, the effectiveness of the trade sanctions on improving conditions in Myanmar and furthering U.S. policy objections towards Myanmar, and the impact of the trade sanctions on national security, economic, and foreign policy interests of the United States.
As I discussed earlier, the US Congress is supportive of current Obama administration policy, but was expected to renew the BFDA. Not only is the Obama administration not prepared to make the case for the full waiver, those in Congress who are focused on the Burma issue would not accept that a “democratically elected government” exists in the country and that all of the Section (3)(a)(3) conditions have been met.
In any event, another year of the ban should provide constructive pressure on the Myanmar regime to continue its reform efforts, with lifting the ban a useful incentive. It also gives companies in Myanmar – particularly those who are not on the Specially Designated Nationals list – time to organize and prepare themselves to re-engage with the US market. That re-engagement will take time, and I’ll have more on this after I get back from Yangon and Naypyidaw.