U.S. Trade

The US long maintained a ban on products from Burma under the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act of 2003 and the Tom Lantos Block Burmese JADE Act of 2008. Congress renewed the legal authority for the ban on imports in August 2012, but the ban was subsequently waived with the issuance of General License No. 18 in November 2012 immediately preceding President Obama’s visit to Rangoon. Notably, the US Administration retained the ban on Burmese rubies and jadeites through the form of an Executive Order issued on August 7, 2013, when the Burmese Freedom of Democracy Act (BFDA), which provided the authority for the gems ban, expired and was not renewed by Congress. Nevertheless, US exports to Burma are now rapidly increasing, and the US is in the process of granting Burma duty-free trade benefits.

US Campaign for Burma is committed to pressuring the US government to use US trade, particularly the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) trade benefits program, as leverage to ensure that the Burmese government enacts significant and rights-promoting legal reforms.

absdfGeneralized System of Preferences (GSP) Trade Benefits Process

The Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) is a set of trade benefits that wealthy countries make available to developing countries. When the US grants a country “Beneficiary Developing Country” (BDC) status, that country is permitted to export a range of goods duty-free to the US. In the 1990s, Burma’s GSP status was suspended because of the high incidence of forced labor. The US is now moving to reinstate Burma as a BDC. Unfortunately, many of the export-oriented sectors covered by the GSP are associated with serious human rights abuses, including violations of internationally recognized workers’ rights. If the US Administration is set on reinstating Burma’s status, there are certain steps that it could take to mitigate the potential for US trade promotion to exacerbate the human rights situation.

US Campaign for Burma worked with Earthrights International to develop proposals that we presented to the GSP Subcommittee of the Office of the US Trade Representative at the June 2013 hearing on Burma's status. We argued to the Subcommittee that these measures are both legally permissible under the Trade Act of 1974 and necessary to present a coherent economic policy on Burma. These proposals include concrete, short-term, pre-reinstatement requirements for Burma, and a more deliberate path toward GSP status for selected goods in problematic sectors. US Campaign for Burma, in collaboration with our partners, is building a coalition similar to the one that successfully pressured the US government to enact the Reporting Requirements for Responsible Investment in Burma, including US and Burma-based civil society groups.

- US Campaign for Burma’s Pre-Hearing Briefing to the GSP Subcommittee

- US Campaign for Burma’s Executive Director Jennifer Quigley & Earthrights International’s Legal Advocacy Coordinator Jonathan Kaufman Testimonies at the GSP Hearing

- US Campaign for Burma’s Post-Hearing Briefing to the GSP Subcommittee

More Significant US Trade Documents

absdfInternational Trade

The international community has responded to Burma's recent modest reforms by seeking to ramp up trade with Burma. Over the past year, Burma has implemented reductions in trade duties and licensing, attempting to attract trade with western partners - partners who have clearly exhibited their financial motives by re-upping trade while ignoring the labor, ethnic minority, human rights, and land rights concerns that have traditionally defined western dialogue on Burmese trade. Western nations and Japan are moving quickly to play catch-up and benefit from one of the world's last economic frontiers after decades of the isolationist Burma being closed to the west. In June 2013, the European Union granted Burma GSP trade benefits that will go into effect in January 2014. EU officials declared the program mutually beneficial, and European countries are slated to benefit substantially from trade with Burma. Still, western trade is far behind trade with China and Thailand, Burma's biggest trading partners. According to Burma's Ministry of Commerce, bilateral trade between China and Burma totaled $3.6 billion in 2011-2012.

For years, China has dominated Burmese markets, and Burma's opening to the west is in large part due to the need to neutralize China's powerful influence in the Burmese economy. Asian development projects in Burma are boosting the Burmese government's capacity and infrastructure for future trade but come at the high price of the unsustainable exploitation of Burma's natural resources and sidelining Burma's own growing energy and financial needs. More importantly, international development projects translate into increased human rights abuses, land seizures, forced relocation, and military attacks for Burma's rural population and ethnic minorities. Many of these projects, including the notorious Shwe gas pipeline deal with China, and several hydropower dams like the stalled Myistone dam and the Salween River Dam Project, create avenues for trade and profit but come hand-in-hand with the disenfranchisement of local people, massive land grabs, militarization, and disproportionate benefits for the sponsoring nations (e.g. China, Korea, India, and Thailand) that pressed the Burmese government to sign away large amounts of Burma's natural resources at rock-bottom prices.

Whether international trade is navigated responsibly with respect to labor, collective bargaining, and legal issues will be a huge factor in determining Burma's long-term political success. Sadly, human rights and reforming the legal code are not being used as pre-conditions to international trade engagement. The international rush to sign trade agreements and invest in Burma's developing sectors largely explains the international community's sudden downplaying of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing in Burma.

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