U.S. businesses will soon be able to invest in Burma and provide
financial services for the first time since the United States
implemented sanctions against the country fifteen years ago.
Secretary of State Clinton announced the United States'
"suspension" of the sanctions program during a joint
press conference with Burmese Foreign Minister, Wunna Maung Lwin,
in Washington on May 17, 2012.
The United States initiated its sanctions program in 1997 in
response to the Government of Burma's large-scale repression of
democratic opposition. Current U.S. sanctions against Burma are
implemented through the Burmese Sanctions Regulations
("BSR") (31 C.F.R. Part 537), administered by the U.S.
Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Controls
("OFAC"). Initially limited to a prohibition against U.S.
persons' "new investment" in, or facilitation of new
investments in Burma, the sanctions were expanded through a series
of subsequent Executive Orders and Acts. Today, in addition to
these original prohibitions, the BSR include a total restriction on
the importation of Burmese products, as well as the exportation or
reexportation to Burma of "financial services" from the
United States or by U.S. persons, wherever located.
Pursuant to Secretary Clinton's remarks, OFAC will amend the
BSR to include a General License (a type of blanket authorization
under which no specific authorization from OFAC is required)
"that will enable American businesses to invest across the
economy, [and] allow [Burmese] citizens access to international
credit markets and dollar-based transactions." The general
license will cover all sectors of the economy. Secretary Clinton
specifically noted that upon issuance of the general license,
American oil and gas companies, mining companies, and financial
services companies will "be free to look for investments"
in the country.
This step is the latest in the Obama Administration's
efforts to ease U.S. sanctions against Burma in recognition of the
Government's progress toward "democratization and national
reconciliation." OFAC issued a General License on April 17,
2012 granting blanket authorization for certain financial
transactions in support of humanitarian, religious and other
not-for-profit activities in Burma.
Nevertheless, Secretary Clinton underscored the United
States' measured approach with respect to Burma. Secretary
Clinton emphasized that the United States will be keeping relevant
laws "on the books as an insurance policy," thereby
providing the United States with the flexibility to tighten
sanctions again as may be warranted should recent Burmese
democratic reforms recede. Similarly, in recognition of reported
corruption and human rights abuses committed by the Burmese
military and the companies owned and operated by the military, the
United States will continue to designate such person(s) on
OFAC's "Specially Designated Nationals" list of
restricted end-users. These individuals and entities will remain
ineligible to receive any U.S. financial services or new
investment. Additionally, the U.S. will maintain the arms embargo
against Burma currently implemented by the U.S. Department of
The United States' announcement follows a similar move by
the European Union and the United Kingdom in April of this year.
Both officially announced a "suspension" of the majority
of their sanctions against Burma/Myanmar for one year –
with the exception of the comprehensive arms embargo. E.U.
officials also publicly emphasized that the move constituted a
"suspension" and not a "lifting" of the
sanctions, and that the E.U. will continue to closely monitor
developments in the country over the year and reassess as
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