September 15, 2016

US and Myanmar agree to game-changing initiatives

In addition to the lifting of US sanctions on Myanmar that came as a result of a historic meeting at The White House yesterday between US President Barack Obama and State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, there will be several other initiatives that were agreed upon in Washington, including global health security and improved English language instruction.
“The President and the State Counsellor committed to mark this new era in the bilateral relationship by announcing a US-Myanmar Partnership. This partnership, anchored by annual dialogues led by the US Department of State and Myanmar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, will allow the two countries to broaden and deepen their cooperation across a range of sectors,” read a statement issued by The White House.
There were six other steps, in addition to the lifting of remaining sanctions and the restoration of Myanmar to the Generalized System of Preferences that allows open trade, that came about as a result of yesterday’s meeting, according to the White House.
The United States and Myanmar commit to continued cooperation in addressing remaining challenges, such as strengthening the rule of law, promoting respect for human rights, countering trafficking in persons, combatting corruption, and advancing anti-money laundering efforts and counter-narcotics activities.
• The United States and Myanmar recognize their shared interest in enhancing bilateral economic engagement and exchanging views on laws and practices that affect bilateral investment flows and foreign investment, including the elements of a high-standard Bilateral Investment Treaty.
• The United States intends to sign a loan guarantee with five local microfinance institutions to support over $10 million in loans to small businesses in Myanmar, which will increase access to food and support employment opportunities for communities in Myanmar.
• The United States and Myanmar are committed to advancing global health security.  In 2017, Myanmar will complete and publish a Joint External Evaluation (JEE) of national capacity to prevent, detect, and respond to infectious disease threats.  The United States completed and published a JEE in 2016.
• The United States and Myanmar will expand people-to-people ties by augmenting English-language instruction with additional training for 1500 English teachers, by expanding US educational advising across Myanmar by 50 percent for students interested in studying in the United States, and by launching a new exchange program for Myanmar leaders that will provide expertise in democratic governance.
• The United States and Myanmar look forward to the arrival of the first group of Peace Corps volunteers, who will train English teachers as well as teach students in middle and high schools.
In Myanmar, news of the game-changing partnership was received with enthusiasm, especially by foreign business leaders.
Jo Daniels, Myanmar Managing Partner at the US-based international law firm Baker & McKenzie, said closer cooperation between Myanmar and the US, has the potential to fuel a boom in infrastructure development and consumer spending in Myanmar.
“As sanctions have eased over the past two years, we have seen a range of multinationals looking to set up Myanmar-specific investment vehicles, or include Myanmar as part of their wider emerging markets investment strategy. However, US multinationals have not featured as prominently in these discussions as other economic powers such as China, Thailand and Japan, in part due to the complex sanctions upon the regime,” Daniels said.
That sentiment was echoed by the head of General Electric in Asia.
“The US administration has clearly made a decision that reflects confidence in Myanmar government as it transitions into a modern democracy,” said Wouter Van Wersch, President and CEO of GE ASEAN. “We applaud the Myanmar government in what they have achieved to earn the removal of these sanctions, and it serves as a testament to the great progress the country has made.”
General Electric already has a strong presence in Myanmar and will likely play a major role in improving infrastructure. More than half of Myanmar citizens have no access to electricity.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was scheduled to attend an exclusive dinner last night with top business leaders, some of whom paid as much as US$25,000 per table to attend.—GNLM


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