US Lifts Myanmar Economic Sanctions

Obama, who recently visited Myanmar, hailed Suu Kyi's plans to convene a peace conference to end armed conflicts among ethnic groups in the Southeast Asian country.

U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday announced his intent to restore trade benefits to Myanmar, the White House said.

Suu Kyi thanked Congress for pressing for human rights through the sanctions, but she said it is time for them to be lifted to encourage more economic development in her nation of 53 million people. This along with lifting of sanctions, Burma would be a very attractive destination for people from all over the world, she said.

The US has eased broad economic sanctions since political reforms began five years ago, and Mr Obama has visited the country twice.

From a business perspective, sanctions legislation remains complex, and its piecemeal suspension rather than removal has inhibited many United States firms from considering market entry. But strong opposition from sections of the lower house and human rights groups remains. Scores of Rohingya Muslims have been the target of sectarian violence, which forced them to flee to neighbouring countries like Thailand and Malaysia.

From the Oval Office, Obama on Wednesday characterized the changes in Myanmar as a "remarkable social and political transformation" and stressed that the United States is "prepared" to lift the sanctions.

"Congratulations on the progress that has been made", he told Suu Kyi, who was under house arrest as a political prisoner when Obama was elected president. "She was imprisoned in her own house", he said.

The move on Wednesday to let Myanmar back in to the Generalized System of Preferences is likely to have a significant, but limited economic impact.

Suu Kyi's stance on sanctions is unclear.

When asked for further details on when sanctions would be lifted, Obama replied "soon".

Months before planners hold an oil and gas exhibit there, the USA government said it was opening the economic doors for a reforming Myanmar.

This contrasts starkly to Suu Kyi's seemingly unequivocal statement to US Congress yesterday: "We think that the time has come to remove all of the sanctions that hurt us economically". They have introduced at least two pieces of legislation seeking to give lawmakers some influence on the process of easing sanctions.

Suu Kyi is scheduled to meet with congressional leaders Thursday on Capitol Hill.

Rights activists are speaking out in support of keeping sanctions. The benefits will be reinstated as of November, following a review that includes whether the country is trying to improve conditions for workers, according a statement issued by the US trade representative.

Some policymakers worry lifting sanctions completely could weaken American leverage and may let the military off the hook.

As recently as last month, the National League for Democracy rejected a proposal in Myanmar's lower house calling for the USA to lift sanctions.

Suu Kyi enjoys deep respect among US lawmakers who were instrumental in the imposition of sanctions in the first place and they will likely follow her lead on whether they should be lifted. He said greater US engagement would promote its ability to promote change.

"I certainly believe it would be premature to get rid of all the sanctions at this point", said Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley of NY, a prominent voice on the issue in Congress. Before a military coup in 1962 it was among the region's stronger economies.

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