Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Thein Sein steps into the world spotlight

Tuesday, 25 September 2012 12:05 Mizzima News

Burma’s President Thein Sein will arrive in the US this week to address the UN General Assembly on Thursday in New York, offering him a chance to lobby for the removal of all the remaining U.S. sanctions. It will be the first American trip by the top Burmese leader in nearly half a century.

President Thein Sein, second from left, is escorted by government and military officials as he prepares to depart to attend the 67th UN General Assembly in New York City. Photo: President's office

The US Congress decided last month to renew its import ban for another year, but reports say that President Obama has the authority to issue a waiver to ease the embargo, Radio Free Asia (RFA) said on its website on Tuesday.

A spokesman in Thein Sein’s office said his UN address on Thursday will highlight the reforms he has implemented since his nominally civilian government took office in March last year, and to ask the international community for “cooperation and assistance.”

Thein Sein’s reformist credentials grew over the past two parliamentary elections as he kept up a steady stream of legislation designed to move the country toward democracy. He has negotiated peace agreements with the country’s ethnic groups, released hundreds of political prisoners, liberalized media rules, conducted land reform, improved labor rights and the right to demonstrate, and started broad economic changes to the financial system.

“We are transforming our political system towards a democracy, and we just have to keep working at it,” said a spokesperson.  “Unfortunately, our economy has not responded as quickly as we expected it would.”

Suu Kyi’s visit

Thein Sein’s visit comes as opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is in the midst of her own landmark US trip. The two have formed an informal agreement to work together for democracy.

Suu Kyi met with Obama in White House, an opportunity that may be denied to Thein Sein on this trip, although no announcement has been made one way or the other.

Suu Kyi met with UN leader Ban Kyi-moon on Monday and will now travel to Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois and California during the rest of her visit, where she plans to speak with members of the Burmese exile community and address the student bodies of a number of universities.

FDI law

A key component of Thein Sein’s reforms is a new Foreign Investment Law, which he has sent back to Parliament for suggested amendments.

“They are not major differences,” said his spokesperson, “just small details in which he feels the word choice could be better.”

The Associated Press reported that Thein Sein wanted a clause, which now limits the foreign stake in joint ventures to 50 percent, to be flexible, depending on the particular sector, with details to be prescribed later in a by-law by the Investment Commission.

Phyo Min Thein, a Member of Parliament from Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition National League for Democracy party representing Hlegu Township, said that all parties were working together to ensure that the FDI law allows Burma to compete in the new democratic era.

“The president is trying his best in the transitional period, and we from the parliament also want to have these laws written properly—to draw FDI and to come out from under the sanctions with integrity during this transitional time,” he said.

But he said that any amendments to the draft law should be debated in an open forum and not pushed through without being thoroughly considered.

“If we are about to amend the draft, we should discuss [the changes],” he said.

According to Burmese official statistics, US investment totaled $243.49 million in 15 projects, accounting for 0.6 percent of the total as of March 2012 since Burma opened to such investment in late 1988.

Bilateral trade reached $ 293.64 million in the fiscal year 2011-12, with Burma’s export to the US amounting to $29.57 million import $264.07 million.

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