April 19, 2012

Myanmar Sanctions to Be Suspended by E.U.

Recognition of reforms could bring wave of investment

Myanmar is about to be rewarded for its many political and economic reforms as the European Union (EU) voted to suspend sanctions in recognition of its efforts.

Reuters reported Thursday that E.U. envoys came to an agreement late Wednesday to suspend, rather than lift, sanctions on the country that has operated under military dictatorship for decades.

While the suspension opens an avenue to a wide range of investments in Myanmar, it also maintains a means of pressure should the new quasi-civilian government fail to continue progress toward democracy.

Formal approval of the agreement is expected at a Luxembourg meeting on April 23 by E.U. foreign ministers. One area expected to see considerable activity after the sanctions are suspended is investment in trade related to timber and mining, both of which are currently banned.

However, other areas will still be restricted. One diplomat was quoted in the report saying, "There is now agreement in principle [on] ... a suspension of all sanctions, except for the arms embargo."

The U.S. on Tuesday loosened sanctions on Myanmar so that financial transactions to support certain humanitarian and development projects are allowed.

E.U. countries are impatient to gain access to Myanmar's proximity to the markets of India and China, its rich natural resources, and its potential for tourism.

Still, leaders are cautious. On Wednesday Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain said in a speech to Parliament, "While it is clear that the ... regime is making some steps towards greater freedom and democracy, we should be extremely cautious and extremely careful." He added, "We want to see the further release of political prisoners, we want to see the resolution of ethnic conflicts, we want the democratization process to continue."

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