The Myanmar Times – EU expected to lift sanctions

By Zaw Win Than 
Volume 32, No. 622
April 9 – 15, 2012

Original Article

EXPORT industries could receive a significant boost with the European Union considering whether to remove the suspension of trade preferences against Myanmar-made goods.

The bloc’s Foreign Affairs Council are to meet on April 23 to discuss removing other punitive measures, such as bans on trade and investment in certain sectors.

The European Union (EU) commissioner for trade said last week that the EU would consider lifting the GSP suspension only after it had received a report from the International Labour Organisation on forced labour.

“They are not really sanctions, they are part of the General System of Preferences … by which the European Union is giving the facilities to the least-developed countries, and including middle-income countries. Myanmar is part of the GSP system but it was suspended since 1997 for political reasons,” Mr Karel De Gucht said at a press conference in Phnom Penh on April 1.

“Soon there will be a report by the ILO on forced labour in Myanmar because that was the main [reason] why GSP was suspended to Myanmar. And depending on the outcome of that report, the European Commission will reconsider its position with respect to GSP.

“I know there is progress in forced labour in Myanmar … [but] it is up to ILO, I haven’t a judgment on that and we will take it into account and come up with a proposal and I hope the report is positive so that we can proceed.

“I truly believe that … if you want to support the … transition in Myanmar it is very important that they can export, they can sell goods into the European market.

“We believe that this is the true victory for economic and social development but of course it is up to Myanmar to put together the political condition that allow us to take that kind of step.”

Mr De Grucht said the Foreign Affairs Council meeting on April 23 could see sanctions removed altogether.

“I think provided that the election has positive outcomes in terms of fairness and a freedom there is a good chance that suspended measures would be taken,” Mr De Grucht said.

Mr De Grucht was speaking during the second ASEAN-EU Summit in Phnom Penh, held on the sidelines of the April 3-4 ASEAN Summit. Featuring business delegates and ministers from the European Union and ASEAN, the summit aims to explore opportunities to boost bilateral trade and investment. The EU is ASEAN’s second-largest trading partner and biggest source of foreign investment, while ASEAN is the European bloc’s third-largest trading partner.

About 300 regional and international business leaders convened in the Cambodian capital to discuss possible cooperation in a range of sectors.

The summit also included a presentation on “Building Business in Myanmar” by Mr Romain Caillaud, chief representative in Myanmar for Vriens and Partners. Other speakers included U Win Aung, president of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI), and U Winston Set Aung, a presidential adviser for economic affairs and director of research at the Asia Development Research Institute.

Delegates at the summit told The Myanmar Times that they were optimistic sanctions would be lifted soon.

Mr Cyril Rocke, treasurer of the European Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines, said that “if Myanmar was moving in the right direction, the EU will definitely lift sanctions very quickly”.

“Everybody is happily surprised by the fast reform process in Myanmar,” he said.

Mr Simon Griffiths, property manager at CB Richard Ellis in Phnom Penh, said Myanmar was a market with “huge” opportunities.

“We are very interested in Myanmar. It is huge,” he said. “I am not sure how quickly the sanctions will be lifted but I hope it will be lifted soon if Myanmar really had free and fair elections.”

U Win Aung said he was confident that the sanctions would be lifted after the April 23 meeting.

“Things are changing in Myanmar,” he said. “The by-elections yesterday were free, fair and transparent so it is time for the EU to consider lifting sanctions on Myanmar and I hope they will lift them soon,” he said.