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US eases Myanmar import ban before Obama trip

Move is seen as the latest reward from Washington to encourage Southeast Asian country's reforms.
Last Modified: 17 Nov 2012 15:03
Barack Obama will meet Aung San Suu Kyi and Myanmar President Thein Sein on his historic visit to Myanmar [EPA]

The United States has said it will allow imports from Myanmar for the first time in a decade days before President Barack Obama arrives for a historic visit, the first by a US president to the former pariah state.

The lifting of the ban on most imports, excluding jade, rubies and jewelry, was announced as the latest measure to reward political and economic reforms of President Thein Sein.

"Today's joint actions by the Departments of State and Treasury are intended to support the Burmese government's ongoing reform efforts and to encourage further change, as well as to offer new opportunities for Burmese and American businesses," the departments said.

Obama will arrive in Myanmar, also known as Burma, on Monday as part of a trip to attend the East Asia summit.

In Yangon, Obama is scheduled to meet with Thein Sein and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

"The government of Burma and Burmese leadership, including Aung San Suu Kyi, have expressed a desire that the import ban be eased in order to further integrate their country into the global economy," the state department said.

The US earlier this year lifted a ban on US companies doing business in Myanmar, shortly after Thein Sein allowed a by-election in which Suu Kyi and 42 other opposition members won parliamentary seats.

Washington has pursued a policy of rewarding Myanmar for each significant reform with the lifting of economic sanctions imposed after a 1988 army crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations that left about 3,000 dead.

"This waiver and license do not affect the existing prohibitions and restrictions on the importation of jadeite and rubies mined or extracted from Burma, and on articles of jewelry containing them, imposed by the Tom Lantos Block Burmese JADE [Junta's Anti-Democratic Efforts] Act of 2008," the US state department said.

Myanmar is the world's largest supplier of jade, often mined under harsh conditions in concessions granted to businessmen who had close connections with the junta that ruled during 1988-2010.

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