The US visit by the two main players in Myanmar's gradual shift to democracy, President Thein Sein and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi represents an opportunity for the U.S. to encourage further reforms in the country. At the same time, Mr. Sein has delayed an eagerly awaited foreign investment bill, and Myanmar’s business and parliamentarian delegates are visiting Singapore to affirm closer ties between the two countries.
Aung San Suu Kyi encourages engagement
On September 17th leader of the National Democratic Party Aung San Suu Kyi, started her first American visit after more than two decades spent mostly under house arrest. On September 19th, she was given the Congressional Gold Medal, America’s highest civilian honour. Though wary of her political counterparts up until last week, she has recently called for the lifting of US sanctions against her country. At the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, she urged the US to engage broadly with the country’s new leaders to help improve democracy: “I don’t think we should depend on US sanctions to keep up the momentum of our new democracy”, she said.
Ms Suu Kyi and Mr Sein appear to be working together to get their nation back on track. Officials from the White House and State Department are talking with Congress about how and when to eliminate the import ban on Myanmar products after the U.S. first began relaxing sanctions earlier this year.
Report: Parallel tracks in Myanmar [The Economist, 22-23 Sep 2012]
Report: U.S is asked by Myanmar opposition to lift sanctions [The International Herald Tribune, 18 Sep 2012]
President Thein Sein embarks on historic US visit
On September 19th, the American ban on travel beyond the UN was lifted. President Sein left Myanmar on Monday for New York to speak about his country’s progress at the United Nations and to discuss lifting the remaining American sanctions on Myanmar. It is the first visit to the United States by a leader of Myanmar since 1966. Credited with overseeing widely praised economic and political changes in Myanmar that have followed almost a half-century of military rule. "The trip will open a new chapter with the international community," says Zaw Htay, an official from Burma's presidential office. "He is expected to explain the reform process of the country including what the government has done and what it is going to do," he added.
The US said in July that American companies will now be allowed to "responsibly do business in Burma". The EU, Australia and other countries have already eased sanctions against the country.
Report: President to push for end of sanctions during U.N visit [The international Herald Tribune, 25 Sep 2012]
Report: Burma’s Thein Sein embarks on historic US visit [BBC NEWS ASIA, 24 Sep 2012]
A new foreign investment law
In Myanmar Mr Sein has delayed an anxiously awaited foreign investment bill, an official said on Monday. The law, which aims to open up the long-isolated nation to overseas trade, was recently approved by Parliament. According to Zaw Htay in the presidential office, "The President wanted to amend some of the provisions in the bill.”
Mr Htay said one change suggested by Mr Sein concerned a clause limiting the foreign stake in joint ventures to 50 percent. That provision was already amended from the law's original proposal limiting foreign holding to 49 percent. Mr. Htay added that the President also wants Parliament to give clearer definitions in the list of sectors in which foreign investment will be restricted.
Attracting foreign direct investment is seen as crucial to the government's ambitious plans for economic expansion.However, observers have expressed concern over so-called protectionist measures in the law. Some investors criticized the legislation as too vague and not attractive enough to foreign investors.
Report: Myanmar leader stalls investment bill [Channel News Asia, 24 Sep 2012] http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/afp_asiapacific_business/view/1227740/1/.html
Report: Myanmar foreign investment law delayed for changes [ABC News, 24 Sep 2012]
Business delegates visit Singapore
As President Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi tour the US, Myanmar's Speaker of the Lower House of Parliament, Thura U Shwe Mann, is in Singapore for a four-day visit.
Mr Shwe Mann is accompanied by five Members of Parliament, officials and business representatives from Myanmar.
On Monday, Mr Shwe Mann met with Singapore Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, reaffirming the close ties between both countries. Mr Goh was in Myanmar in June this year, where he stated that Myanmar has the opportunity to become the new regional economic powerhouse if the country succeeds in its political and economic reforms. Mr Goh added that both Singapore and Myanmar can complement each other for mutual benefits. Singapore is Myanmar's fourth largest trading partner, with bilateral trade amounting to around S$1.6 billion last year.
In a sign that Myanmar is seeking to learn more about governance reforms, earlier in the day, Mr Shwe Mann and his delegation called on Singapore's Speaker of Parliament Michael Palmer, who hosted a lunch and a tour of Parliament House.
Report: Myanmar business delegates visit Singapore [Channel News Asia, 24 Sep 2012]