United States to ease Myanmar import ban

Myanmar President Thein Sein is to address the U.N. General Assembly Thursday.

Story highlights

  • Announcement is important step in growing rapprochement between U.S., Myanmar
  • U.S., Myanmar have held talks about establishing military ties and increasing investment
  • Process of lifting sanctions to be gradual
  • Myanmar president to address U.N. General Assembly on Thursday

The United States will start lifting a ban on imports of goods from Myanmar, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday, providing a huge potential boost to the once-isolated southeast Asian nation.

Clinton said that the gradual lifting of the ban, which has been in place for most of the last two decades, was a response to the continued implementation of political and economic reforms by the government of Myanmar President Thein Sein, who she met in New York on Wednesday.

"We will begin the process of easing restrictions on imports of Burmese goods into the United States," she told Thein Sein. "We hope this will provide more opportunities for your people to sell their goods into our market."

The announcement is the latest and one of the most important steps in the growing rapprochement between the United States and Myanmar after Thein Sein's government made its first moves towards reform two years ago.

The United States has already lifted many restrictions on its companies investing in Myanmar and has also held discussions about establishing ties with the military.

"The people of Myanmar are very pleased about the news of easing of economic sanctions by the United States and we are grateful for the action by the United States," said Thein Sein. "We still need to continue our path on democratic reforms, but with the recognition and the support from the champion of democracy like the United States, it has been an encouragement for us to continue our chosen path."

He added that he wished U.S. President Barack Obama well in his election campaign.

The process of lifting sanctions on imports is likely to be slow and gradual. A senior U.S. official said that the administration would discuss the next steps with Congress and would likely phase in the lifting of restrictions on a sector-by-sector basis.

One person familiar with the discussions within the Obama administration said certain items, such as jade and other precious stones, would likely remain the subject of sanctions.

Thein Sein is to address the U.N. General Assembly on Thursday. Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Prize winner and now opposition leader, is also in the U.S. at the moment and has received a rapturous welcome.

However, the Obama administration timed the announcement of lifting the import ban in order to allow Thein Sein to take much of the credit.