U.S. businesses criticize Burma sanctions
Some say restrictions will hurt U.S.
April 24, 1997
Web posted at: 12:19 p.m. EDT (1619 GMT)
From Bangkok Bureau Chief Tom Mintier
BANGKOK, Thailand (CNN) -- Until the U.S. government instituted a ban on new Burmese investments this week, the decisions not to invest in Burma were made in the boardrooms of major corporations.
First, it was Pepsi pulling out of a joint venture bottling plant in Rangoon. The soft drink giant was a major player --eight of every 10 bottles of soda sold in Burma carried the Pepsi brand.
Apple Computers also pulled out in October 1996, citing a Massachusetts law that forbade the state government from contracting with companies conducting business in Burma. It held a small market share, so the pullout by the computer company wasn't significant -- but the Massachusetts law was also cited when Eastman Kodak and Hewlett-Packard began to divest their Burmese holdings.
And during the past six months, the garment industry in Burma has seen sales plummet. U.S. retailers who once placed major orders pulled out long before economic sanctions.
President Clinton decided on Tuesday to bar new U.S. investments in Burma because of "severe repression" by the country's military regime.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said Burma's leaders have refused to heed repeated American appeals to open a political dialogue with Burmese democrats, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. Suu Kyi appealed for international sanctions against Burma two months ago.
Although the threat of economic sanctions, boycotts and in some cases a shaky market have prompted some high-profile names to back off their Burma investment, the U.S. government's ban on new investment there was strongly condemned by the National Association of Manufacturers.
Its president, Jerry Jasinowski, said: "Unilateral economic sanctions are no substitute for a serious foreign policy. The measures will harm the interests of the very people the law was designed to help -- the impoverished Burmese people -- while doing nothing to advance human rights."
Unocal Corp., which is building a natural gas pipeline from Burma to Thailand in cooperation with its French partner, Total SA, also criticized the administration.
"Economic engagement, not isolation, is the best way to promote positive change," said a spokesman for Unocal.
California-based Unocal is the largest U.S. investor in Burma. Its share of the natural gas pipeline project, worth $1.2 billion, will not be affected.
But sanctions will prevent the American firm from future investments. Unocal Chairman Roger Beach, who was in Thailand when the sanctions were announced, flatly stated that unilateral sanctions don't work.
Beach says the big loser will not be the government in Rangoon, but U.S. companies. He says the U.S. government during the past four years put 61 unilateral sanctions in place against 35 countries.
"If you grind the numbers that equates to a loss of exports from the United States of about $15 billion to $19 billion, which also equates to around 200,000 U.S. high-paid jobs," Beach said.
Even so, American investment in Burma has been limited. The United States is only the fourth largest overseas investor in Burma, with some $582 million committed toward 16 projects in the gas and oil sectors.
Most of the projects in Burma are European or from other Asian countries.
With sanctions now in place, most businessmen agree that the Burmese will simply turn elsewhere for investment. It also appears that few other countries will join the U.S. action.
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