Thursday, June 28, 2012

Webb calls for U.S. to drop ban on Burmese imports

Thursday, 28 June 2012 13:12 Mizzima News

U.S. Sen. Jim Webb said the U.S should “implement the decisions that have been announced and continue to ease additional sanctions, such as the ban on imports” from Burma, during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the nomination Ambassador Derek Mitchell to be ambassador to Burma on Wednesday.

Webb said he expected Mitchell to be confirmed by the Senate later this week.

U.S.Senator Jim Webb, an early supporter of engagement with Burma. Photo: Mizzima

 “If we do not act, proactively and soon, we will lose a critical window of opportunity to influence development of financial governance inside Burma,” Webb said.

Webb noted that different standards in U.S. trade policy have been applied to China and Vietnam than to Burma. 

“China’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, Liu Xiabo, remains incarcerated– as opposed to Aung San Suu Kyi. China has no free elections. Yet, no one is advocating at this time that we impose economic sanctions on China…. Concerns about censorship of the media, restrictions on the freedom of religion, or detention of political prisoners have not prompted the United States to restrict our trade with Vietnam,” he said, according to wire reports.

“This is not to single out China or Vietnam for opprobrium; it is simply to point out the need for consistency in the logic of those who argue for overly punitive restrictions as we develop our relations with Burma,” Webb said. “We should never take our concerns about political freedoms or individual rights off the table. But we should also be promoting economic progress to sustain the political reforms that have taken place.”

Citing recent public statements by Suu Kyi that countries should not invest in Burma’s state-owned oil company until it adheres to voluntary international standards, Webb asked whether “an official from any foreign government should be telling us what sectors that we should invest in and not invest in.”

He said that the United States does not require other countries to endorse such international standards as a prerequisite for investment and affirmed “the United States sets the standards of transparency of our own business environment.”

In 2009, Webb was the first American high official to visit Burma in more than 10 years. Following that trip, he called for increased confidence-building gestures in order to pursue better relations between the two governments, and he was credited by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with being an important figure in shaping the U.S. policy of engagement with Burma.

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