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Sanctions on Burma brake Asean
- Subject: Sanctions on Burma brake Asean
- From: ausgeo@xxxxxxx
- Date: Thu, 24 Apr 1997 03:49:00
Date: 24 Apr 1997
Publication: The Nation
Sanctions on Burma brake Asean
BY NITSARA SRIHANAM
A SENIOR official of the Commerce Ministry has expressed concern about the
prospect of Burma joining Asean this year after the United States announced
economic sanctions against the nation's dictatorship on Tuesday.
The official, who asked not to be named, said the US ban on new American
investments in Burma could put Asean in a dilemma as the US is a major
political and economic power.
The official said it is possible that Burma might not be granted Asean
membership this year because the sanctions will give Asean countries food for
thought about offending Washington.
''The US sees the human rights issue as key to its foreign policy. Moreover,
Clinton's [Democrat] party knows that highlighting human rights is politically
expedient for elections. I think the US does not want to see Asean welcome
Burma at this time," the official said.
Cambodia, Laos and Burma are expected to become Asean members in July when
Asean foreign ministers hold their annual meeting in Malaysia.
''Although the US will not force Asean [to accept its condition], Asean
countries must read and understand this political game. If Asean welcomes
Burma, it's possible that the US may reduce the privileges it offers to Asean
members such as benefits under the Generalised System of Preferences," the
He said the threat of US sanctions would make it difficult for Thailand and
other Asean nations to decide on Burma's Asean membership.
If Asean decides not to accept Burma, it needs to have a constructive reason
to back its decision. Moreover, the grouping will have to decide whether to
accept Cambodia and Laos if it excludes Burma.
Commerce Minister Narongchai Akrasanee said yesterday the sanctions were an
American political issue and he foresaw no impact from the US measure on
Asean's decision on Burma's membership.
He insisted that Thailand is sufficiently independent to support Burma as an
Asean member if it can fulfil all of Asean's requirements.
''Thailand will carry on with its constructive engagement policy with Burma.
Its trading and investment policy with Burma will also remain the same. The US
has not persuaded us [Thailand] to act against Burma. The sanctions only bind
the two countries [the US and Burma]," he said.
The minister said he believed Burma would not be seriously affected by the
sanctions as companies from many other countries besides the US have invested
He believes that business is business, an agenda which politics cannot easily
Commenting on the entry of Burma, Cambodia and Laos into Asean, Narongchai
said he was only looking at the economic feasibility of the three countries,
whether they can implement the Asean Free Trade Area (Afta) programme which
includes the submission of a list products on which import tariffs have to be
Narongchai will report on the economic status of the three countries and the
final decision on their membership will depend on the Asean foreign ministers.
Karun Kittisathaporn, director general of the Business Economic Department,
said the three countries submitted tentative lists of products to the Asean
Secretariat during the meeting of senior Asean economic officials at Ho Chi
Minh City last week.
However those lists are not complete and the three countries must hand in
final ones to Asean foreign ministers in July as well as other related lists
such as the exclusion and sensitive lists in October.
Karun said the membership of the three countries depends not only on economic
factors but political will.
In addition, they must agree that Asean members will accord each other several
economic privileges including most-favoured nation status and reciprocal
national and transparent treatment.
Moreover, new members must agree that they will act in line with the Afta
agreement and adjust their tariff systems to comply with Afta's Common
Effective Preferential Tariff (CEPT) scheme.
They will have to sign agreements on intellectual property and customs.
Karun said Burma seems to be the country most prepared to join Asean due to
its economic preparedness. The country has reduced tariffs on 6,000 items and
is far ahead of the Afta programme.
Moreover, Burma, which is rich in natural resources including oil and
minerals, has set up an Afta Unit and agreed to remove non-tariff trade