The Obama administration on Tuesday announced an easing of some U.S. economic sanctions on Burma, a move designed to foster greater trade ties with the once-isolated Southeast Asian nation that is undergoing a fitful democratic transition.
The Treasury Department said it was altering regulatory provisions to allow more U.S. citizens and financial institutions in Burma, also known as Myanmar, to engage in economic transactions. The administration also removed seven state-owned Burmese enterprises and three state-owned banks from a list of businesses whose international assests are blocked.
Administration officials emphasized that President Obama renewed his authority to impose the sanctions but that the easing follows a successful democratic election last fall that led to a transition of power to the long-oppressed opposition party.
“We’re not doing away with all our sanctions,” said Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser. “We are emphasizing that constructive economic engagement with Burma is not just allowed — it is encouraged. Our sanctions were too often an obstacle; the very people we wanted to help were hurt in some cases.”
The administration has helped foster Burma’s political transition after half a century of military rule, and Obama visited the country twice, laying the groundwork for changes in U.S. policy. But critics, including some members of Congress, have cited ongoing ethnic violence by the Buddhist majority against the Rohingya Muslim minority, as well continued persecution of reporters and civil society advocates, to call on the administration to maintain tough economic sanctions.
Treasury officials noted that six companies were added to the blocked list, even as the administration was announcing the easing of sanctions on others.
“There obviously is more work that needs to be done,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said, “and the sanctions that remain in place do serve to pressure those entities that may be advocating for rolling back some of those reforms.”