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Trade between Australia and Burma has soared more than three-fold in the past year as Canberra continues to resist calls for targeted trade sanctions against the ruling junta.
But this rise does not even factor in Australian investment in Burmese energy projects which would likely see it dramatically increase, said Zetty Blake, spokesperson for Burma Campaign Australia (BCA),
“The trade figures do not include the millions of dollars Australian companies are investing into industries in Burma, like oil and gas, that are directly funding the military regime,” she said.
Danford Equities Corporation, a subsidiary of the Australian-owned Twinza Oil, signed a contract with the Burmese state-run Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) in November 2006 to explore for oil in Burma. According to BCA, the deal will net the ruling junta around $US2.5 billion.
Australia has previously been in the firing line for its ties to the maligned Burmese government. In October last year, the flagship Australian airline Qantas rejected calls from campaigners to stop subsidiary airline Jetstar from flying to Burma, claiming that it provided an important service for aid workers.
Even proposals last year by the Rudd government to boost aid to Burma were met with scepticism, given the junta’s track record of siphoning overseas aid into so-called ‘aid agencies’ known to be run by the military generals.
But campaigners scored a victory earlier in October after Australian clothing chain, Speciality Fashion Group (SFG), announced it would stop sourcing products from Burma.
According to BCA, however, clothing still remains one of more than 10 commodities traded by the two countries. Australia reportedly also supplies the ruling junta with aircraft and telecommunications hardware, and imports textiles and photographic equipment.
Burma economics expert Sean Turnell said that targeted trade and investment sanctions on Burma were “more urgent than ever” given that it “depends to an unusual degree on the economic and financial resources it controls through its monopolisation of much of Burma’s trade”.
Australian foreign minister Stephen Smith said last month that looming elections in Burma could not be considered free or fair with the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) effectively forced to boycott them.