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US Reaffirms Commitment to Myanmar but Calls for Further Reform

As Myanmar works to get its economy in order and positioned to flourish, the U.S. is one ally ever in the country’s corner.

Speaking ahead of the U.S.-ASEAN (The Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Ministerial Meeting in Myanmar’s capital city Naypyitaw last week, Secretary of State John Kerry said the nation has made significant strides toward reform, and stressed that while Myanmar works to quell long-running civil wars and humanitarian crisis, it would have the “support and friendship” of the U.S.

Some U.S. and European retailers have started reestablishing a presence in the country owed to the easing of sanctions imposed on the nation during its military rule. Myanmar’s abundant and affordable labor force is a draw for international companies like Gap, which in June announced its intent to source garments for its Old Navy and Banana Republic brands in the country. Gap’s orders have already led to 700 new jobs in the sector.

ASEAN—which includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam—is the United States’ fourth largest trading partner, and the association is working to create a single economic community by the end of 2015. ASEAN member countries imported $9.98 billion worth of textiles and apparel to the U.S. in the year ended June 2014, up 4.86% from the prior period’s $9.53 billion, according to data from the Office for Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA).

“So much of the history of the 21st century is going to be written right here in Asia, and the longest chapters of that history are going to be driven by what happens in Southeast Asia,” Kerry said. “That’s why the United States remains deeply committed to engaging the Asia-Pacific region, and ASEAN is at the center of the region’s multilateral architecture and it plays a critical role in promoting both peace, prosperity, and also a regional integration throughout Asia.”

Speaking ahead of this year’s ASEAN meetings, Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel R. Russel, said Myanmar is working to tackle outbreaks of religious intolerance and violence, and dealing with tough questions of constitutional reform.

“So, although we are mindful of the successes thus far and incremental progress in the democratic reforms,” Russel said, “Ultimate success is not pre-ordained. It’s a goal for which the Burmese are striving and it is a goal that we, the United States, very much want to help them to attain.”