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Pakistani president eyes trade on Burma visit

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari will arrive inBurmatoday to discuss future economic and trade ties between the two countries, and meet with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a spokesperson announced today.

Zardari is set to meet with President Thein Sein in Naypidaw to discuss bilateral trade initiatives, including cooperation on oil and gas ventures, before travelling to Rangoon. There he will meet with the iconic pro-democracy activist to discuss Burma’s changing political landscape.

“Myanmar [Burma] is an important member of ASEAN and President Zardari will raise the issue of upgrading institutional relations with the ASEAN to full dialogue partnership,” spokesperson Farhatullah Babar said in a statement earlier.

Pakistan has maintained good diplomatic relations with the Burmese government since the military coup in 1962, leading to criticism from pro-democracy activists in Burma that it has supported military rule. Allegations have also circulated that it has clandestinely supplied the Burmese with military hardware, particularly sophisticated naval weaponry.

Despite the warm ties, a degree of secrecy has surrounded the bilateral relationship, with Burma keen not to upset trade with India that began to gather pace in the early 1990s.

Naypyidaw has however made a point of not restricting its economic dependencies to either India or China, and despite political tensions in the region, has effectively courted any government willing to do business with it.

Recent developments however hold the potential for Burma to reach out past its key trading partners inAsia, with western countries pushing for an end to sanctions in response to a slew of reformist measures enacted by the Thein Sein administration.

That will have triggered concern among its neighbours that they could be out-muscled by looming western investment, and Zardari will seek to embolden business ties between the two countries.

The EU agreed to begin the lifting of sanctions against Burma in a surprise move yesterday, with speculation that the bloc is keen to re-establish economic ties with the previously isolated country.

Access to Burma’s abundant natural resource wealth and its strategic location as a gateway to ASEAN economies is likely to make it the subject of a tussle as western countries push to regain a foothold in one ofAsia’s last untapped markets.


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