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US sanctions to have little impact:

Subject:  US sanctions to have little impact: Burmese official, analysts

US-Burma-economy,sched-lead : US sanctions to have little impact: Burmese 
official, analysts

by Philip McClellan 

BANGKOK, April 23 (AFP) - A US decision to clamp sanctions on Burma is 
unlikely to hurt an economy which is increasingly dependent on its Asian 
trading partners, a Burmese official and analysts said Wednesday. 

Many analysts say US sanctions will have little bite given the small number of 
American companies currently doing business in Burma and will only open the 
door further for their Asian and European competitors. 

US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright announced the sanctions in Washington 
Tuesday, citing the Burmese ruling junta's repression of the pro-democracy 
opposition led by Aung San Suu Kyi. 

Soe Myint, director general of the planning department in Burma's Ministry of 
Energy, said Burmese officials had already shrugged off the sanctions. 

"We have been surviving without any assistance from the US government for 
years, so I don't think these sanctions will have any effect on the Myanmar 
(Burmese) economy," he said. 

Soe Myint said the impact would be weakened because the sanctions did not 
cover investments already in place, including a 1.2 billion dollar natural gas 
venture in which Unocal Corp. is a major partner with Total of France.

The project, under which natural gas will be piped to Thailand from the Yadana 
fields in the Andaman Sea is expected to be Rangoon's main foreign currency 
spinner when it comes on line in the next few years. 

Soe Myint said Rangoon was counting on continued interest in the Burmese 
economy from Asian companies who were unrestrained by governmental meddling. 

"I personally think that the Myanmar nation can survive on the strength of its 
own economy but we also have lots of friends in ASEAN (Association of 
Southeast Asian Nations) and in countries such as Korea," he said. 

"I don't think we will have a problem surviving." 

Other analysts say that far from spurring other countries to follow suit, the 
US sanctions could illicit a knee-jerk reaction from ASEAN countries already 
sensitive to interference in the affairs of other countries. 

ASEAN -- which groups Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, 
Thailand and Vietnam -- is expected to welcome Burma as a member later this 
year despite US and European objections. 

"One effect you might see from the sanctions is the shepherding of Burma into 
ASEAN more quickly than expected," said Peter Brimble, president of the 
Brooker Group Ltd., a Thai-based business and policy research company. 

"Some ASEAN members could see the sanctions as a move to put ASEAN in between 
a rock and a hard place," he added. 

Thailand and Malaysia both said Wednesday that the sanctions would not hurt 
Rangoon's chances of an early admittance to ASEAN.

Some analysts say that worst hurt by the sanctions will be US companies whose 
attempts to do business in Burma have already been hamstrung by a consumer 
backlash at home over the Burmese junta's human rights record. 

Those pressures have already prompted US companies such as Pepsi Co., Apple 
Computers and Levis to pull the plug on their Burmese investments. 

The American Chamber of Commerce in Bangkok warned last year that US companies 
would be the hardest hit by an embargo and would only sit by as the slack was 
taken up by their competitors from around the region. 

California-based Unocal said in a statement Tuesday it was "disappointed" over 
the "policy of isolation and sanctions" chosen by the administration. 

Japan, whose companies have become increasingly prominent players in the 
Burmese economy, said Wednesday that it would not follow the US example -- 
leaving the door wide open for fresh investments. 

"I think we are going to see a lot of countries sitting on the fence on this 
one," said one analyst who warned that some governments -- including those 
from Europe and Australia -- would see the sanctions as an investment 

"Certainly, I don't think that the sanctions will stop any regional investors 
and the Europeans and Japanese may be looking into the possibilities," the 
analyst said. 

Australia also said Wednesday that it would not follow suit on the sanctions 
as they were unlikely to achieve their desired ends.

The United States, which has up to now neither officially encouraged nor 
discouraged investment in Burma, is the fourth largest investor in Burma with 
582 million dollars in 16 projects, according to official Burmese figures.