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US Suspends Myanmar Trade Engagement

The United States government is suspending its trade engagement with Myanmar, also known as Burma, amid ongoing violence and bloodshed in the wake of a Feb. 1 military coup.

This suspension under the 2013 Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) will remain in effect until the return of a democratically elected government, United States Trade Representative (USTR) Katherine Tai announced Monday. The development follows sanctions against a host of government and related people and entities but falls short of a ban on two-way trade.

The TIFA signed in 2013 created a platform for ongoing dialogue and cooperation on trade and investment issues. Burma agreed to cooperate with the U.S. on programs to support economic reforms, inclusive development and integration into the global trading system.

“The United States supports the people of Burma in their efforts to restore a democratically elected government, which has been the foundation of Burma’s economic growth and reform,” Tai said. “The United States strongly condemns the Burmese security forces’ brutal violence against civilians. The killing of peaceful protestors, students, workers, labor leaders, medics, and children has shocked the conscience of the international community. These actions are a direct assault on the country’s transition to democracy and the efforts of the Burmese people to achieve a peaceful and prosperous future.”

In addition to suspending future TIFA engagements with the military regime, USTR will consider the situation in Burma with respect to the internationally recognized worker rights eligibility criterion as Congress considers reauthorization of the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program, which authorizes duty-free or reduced tariffs on imports forma range of countries. Congress allowed GSP to expire last year.

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Reports that the military has targeted Burma’s trade unions and workers for their role in the pro-democracy protests raises serious concerns about worker rights protections, Tai said. In the TIFA, Burma recognized the importance of respecting, promoting, and realizing fundamental labor rights as enumerated by the International Labor Organization, and of effectively enforcing its respective laws and regulations on worker rights.

In 2016, the Burmese government committed through an exchange of letters to further strengthen worker rights protections. USTR said this exchange and the steps the country had already taken to improve worker rights facilitated its reinstatement as a GSP beneficiary in November 2016.

The United States and former President Bill Clinton had previously suspended Burma’s GSP benefits in 1989 on worker rights grounds, following the violent suppression of pro-democracy demonstrations and strikes in 1988.

Earlier this month, a coalition of fashion trade and labor, including the American Apparel & Footwear Association, the Ethical Trading Initiative, the Fair Labor Association and Social Accountability International, organizations urged the Burmese military in a joint statement to cease its violent and deadly crackdown on civilians and anti-coup protestors, release those who have been detained, restore Internet service and reject proposed legal restrictions on online activity as damaging to freedom of expression and assembly.

“This coup, and the military’s growing violence in support of it, threatens to reverse the progress and the thawing of relations between Myanmar and the international community ongoing since 2011,” the letter said.

The U.S. had banned imports from Burma in 2003 following a military coup but lifted restrictions in 2013 after democratic elections.