EU ‘may further relax sanctions’

A representative of Burma’s leading industry body has said that the EU may well continue to relax sanctions on the country, and even increase investment, if the government shows continued improvement.

The issue was raised on the sidelines of the EU-ASEAN summit in Jakarta on 5 May during a conversation between a senior EU official and Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI) representative, Ko Ko.

Ko Ko, also the executive director of Yangon Media Group, told DVB that the official framed the EU’s recent suspension of a visa ban on top Burmese officials as a possible sweetener to encourage greater reform in the government.

“An EU official in an off-the-record conversation told me that there is a chance [the EU] will relax more [sanctions] step by step if Burma shows some improvement,” he said.

It comes as the Burmese business sector pushes for greater foreign investment in the Tavoy deep-sea port deal, the country’s single biggest infrastructural project, valued at around $US10 billion.

Ko Ko said that EU presence in the project would depend on what signs are given by the Burmese government, which an EU statement recently claimed had a “greater civilian character”.

I think it will be a little bit difficult for the investments to come under current circumstances,” said Ko Ko. “However they [EU] will come if Burma can promptly show changes.”

The EU could not be reached to comment on the subject.

The change in tack from European governments has sparked criticism from various analysts who claim the new Burmese government, which took office in March, is merely a disguised extension of the previous ruling junta.

The bloc announced in April that it would suspend for one year a freeze on assets and travel restrictions for high-ranking Burmese government ministers, including foreign minister Wunna Maung Lwin, whom it now considers “an essential interlocutor”.

Its decision to relax tight restrictions on four ministers and 18 vice-ministers was, according to a statement released by the Council of the European Union, a sign that the EU is willing “to encourage and respond to improvements in governance and progress, in the hope that a greater civilian character of the Government will help in developing much needed new policies”.

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