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Information Sheet No.A-0684(I/L)
- Subject: Information Sheet No.A-0684(I/L)
- From: OKKAR66129@xxxxxxx
- Date: Sun, 08 Nov 1998 01:24:00
Myanmar Information Committee
No.A-0684(I/L) 8th November 1998
Myanmar Information Committee is presenting " Myanmar Monitor" dated 6
November for your reading pleasure.
November 6, 1998 A balanced view of the Union of Myanmar Volume 2.22
THE MYANMAR MONITOR
District Court Rules State Law on Myanmar Unconstitutional
Judge says law "impermissibly infringes on the federal government's power to
regulate foreign affairs"
" We share concerns over reported human rights abuses in Burma, however, our
system of government was not designed to allow the fifty states and hundreds
of municipalities to conduct their own individual foreign policies."
On November 4, the Federal District Court in Boston ruled the so-called
"Massachusetts Burma Law" unconstitutional on the grounds that the statute
violates the federal government's power to regulate foreign affairs.
Massachusetts- which passed the law in 1996- was one of eighteen states,
cities and counties in the US banning companies that do business in Myanmar
from receiving state contracts. Hailed as "a major victory for opponents of
sub-federal sanctions laws" by Inside U.S. Trade, this "decision represents
a dramatic change in how states and localities" will likely view any current
and future selective purchasing legislation. According to National Foreign
Trade Council (NFTC) President Frank Kittredge, "Chief Judge Tauro's ruling
rests on clear constitutional grounds, and should significantly deter states
and cities from imposing their own foreign policy sanctions." The NFTC, the
suit's plaintiff, represents the interests of hundreds of companies in free
Lobbying efforts on both sides of the issue intensified since the case was
brought to court earlier this year. Simon Billenness, a major supporter of the
legislation and Senior Analyst for Franklin Research and Development
Corporation in Boston, said " Boycotts based on human rights have been a
cornerstone of our democracy since the Boston Tea Party....We cannot allow a
few corporations to remove this democratic tool so that they can profit from
a murderous military junta." Another vocal opponent of the recent ruling and
sponsor of the law is Massachusetts State Representative Byron Rushing (D-
Boston). "If selective purchasing had been banned ten years ago, Nelson
Mandela might still be in prison today." No decision has yet been made by
Massachusetts officials whether or not to appeal Judge Tauro's ruling,
although that action is expected. "If we do, we'll also try to get a stay of
the ruling so that the law can be reinstated while the appeal is heard, "said
Assistant Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas Bamico.
The European Union supported the National Foreign Trade Council's lawsuit
claiming the law "interferes with the normal conduct of EU-US relations,
raises questions about the ability of the US to honour international
commitments ...and poses a great risk to the proliferation of similar state
sanction laws, which in turn would aggravate international tensions." Japan
joined the EU in urging the World Trade Organization to establish a dispute
panel to examine whether the law breaks global trade agreements. EU officials
are reported to have said the challenge may not be pursued if US courts rule
the law unconstitutional.
Judge Tauro wrote that the Massachusetts law was "designed with the purpose of
changing domestic policy" but "state interests, no matter how noble, do not
trump the federal government's exclusive foreign affairs power."
UN ENVOY VISITS MYANMAR
As part of the United Nations' consultation process between the international
governing body and the Union of Myanmar, Assistant Secretary-General Alvaro de
Soto visited Yangon from October 27-31 with a mission to encourage a "more
democratically representative government." This is the third visit by the
special envoy-the UN's second-ranking official for political affairs- and came
at a particularly key moment as the UN and other international human rights
organizations have released several reports condemning the ruling military
Myanmar has recently softened its stance about the United Nations and its role
in promoting economic and social progress. In a public nod to the organization
on its 53rd anniversary, Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council
(SPDC) General Than Shwe remarked that "we are of the view that accepted norms
of human rights should be promoted through cooperation and consensus
building." The UN's initial request to visit Myanmar last August was refused
by the government in Yangon.
Alvaro de Soto met with senior members of the SPDC including Chairman Than
Shwe, Secretary-One Lieutenant General Khin Nyunt, and Foreign Minister Ohn
Gyaw. There have been no reports released on the outcome of these meetings,
but the government referred to them as "fruitful and constructive." While in
Yangon, Mr. de Soto also met twice with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The UN envoy will brief US Secretary General Kofi Annan who will release a
report on Myanmar in November.
EU VOTES ON SANCTIONS AND JOINT ASEAN MEETING
The European Union (EU) voted on October 26 to extend existing sanctions
imposed on Myanmar since 1996, instead of enacting more severe restrictions
recently debated by the fifteen-nation organization. These restrictions,
already put into effect, include bans on transit visas for military
authorities and entry visas for tourism officials, as well as the suspension
of non-humanitarian aid. The EU ministers vowed to "rigorously apply" the
travel ban to SPDC members and their families.
In a breakthrough for EU-ASEAN relations, however, the EU granted Myanmar
permission to attend the next meeting of the Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC)
which had been stalled for a year due to this decision. The European Union is
ASEAN's oldest dialogue partner, dating back to 1977, and the JCC was
established three years later under the 1980 ASEAN-EU cooperation agreement.
The European Union will not allow Myanmar's full participation in the
agreement, nor does it ensure representation in future JCC meetings, until
tangible improvement is made in the area of human rights.
As the host of the upcoming 13th ASEAN-EU JCC to be held this year, Thailand
played a crucial role in encouraging compromise between Myanmar and the
European body. Myanmar agreed to uphold their observer status and "will
refrain from speaking [at the meeting ] if necessary."
In other related news, the Myanmar government, Singapore's Information and
Resource Center, and the Sasakawa Peace Foundation of Japan sponsored a two
day international symposium on "Interaction for Progress: Myanmar in ASEAN" on
October 23-24. Representatives from ASEAN nations, government officials,
academics, and private entrepreneurs gathered in Yangon to discuss new policy
avenues for Myanmar to pursue that would benefit both the state and its
citizens and encourage international relations. In an address to the group,
Lieutenant General Khin Nyunt said Myanmar "will always take into
consideration relations with her neighbouring countries as well as with others
in the region. And even if in the course of these relations, unexpected
difficulties and obstacles should arise, [Myanmar ] shall continue to
cooperate with other nations for regional development and security on the
basis of mutual understanding and in a spirit of friendship."
SIAZON SPEAKS ON ASEAN
Philippine Foreign Minister Domingo Siazon recently spoke with Asiaweek
correspondent Antonio Lopez.
Q. So has ASEAN abandoned its policy of non interference in each other's
A. During the ASEAN foreign ministers' meeting in July in Manila, Thailand
wanted to do away with the principle of non-interference and [adopt]
constructive engagement . There was resistance. [Even so ], we are telling
members that, from now on, we will be true to our own values and ideas and we
will speak out and express our views, Nobody can deny the right of any member
to say, "this issue is important to me." This is a clear signal to everyone
that, from now on, our behavioural pattern will be different from the pattern
we were used to in the past.
Q. Is ASEAN still relevant?
A. It is still very important. It is the glue that binds us all together.
Despite our temporary differences- as brothers and sisters may have-you still
have to go back to where you belong. We belong to the same ASEAN family.
Individually, we cannot survive in this globalized world. We have to stick
TRADE AND INVESTMENT NEWS
Recent reports from two Yangon-based economic publications cite increased
investment within the country by Myanmar citizens ;and continued healthy
border trading with China. According to the latest issue of Myanmar Business
News, a Myanmar Chamber of Commerce and Industry newsletter, investment within
Myanmar by its citizens rose 207 percent-from US $33.43 to 102.75 million
-from the same period last year. This surge stemmed from heavy investment in
real estate development and manufacturing, including projects in covered
construction, transport, hotels and tourism, industrial estate, livestock and
fisheries, and agriculture. Myanmar's private sector contributed 75.4 percent
to the country's GDP in 1997/1998.
Myanmar's local International Economic Journal reports border trade with
"China amounted to US $ 129 million from January-August: with exports reaching
63 million and imports 66 million. According to the Journal, as of February
1998 Myanmar exempted the commercial tax, reduced border trade service charges
from 10 to 8 percent, and raised the rate of income tax on imported goods from
1.5 to 2 percent.
REPLENISHING THE RICE BOWL
Once known as the "Rice Bowl of Asia," Myanmar is striving to regain this
title by encouraging foreign investment in the country's fertile Irrawaddy
river delta. The military government currently owns all farmland and controls
rice exporting, but has made plans to lease portions of land to the private
sector-including foreign investors- for up to twenty years. Those leasing will
be able to export half of their production. According to a Reuters report,
other proposed improvements by the Myanmar government include giving credits
to farmers, implementing advance paddy purchase systems, and helping to
modernize rice mills. Myanmar hopes to significantly increase its rice export
to one million tons for the 1999/2000 April-March season.
Speaking at the Asia International Rice Confer- ence in Thailand last month, a
US Department of Agriculture specialist based in Yangon said foreign interest
in the plan is high, although infrastructure (fertilization systems,
irrigation pumps and modern drying facilities) and bureaucratic problems may
hinder success. It is of international importance for Myanmar and potential
investors to work on cooperative solutions. An article carried in the
International Herald Tribune quotes the International Rice Research Institute
as saying " Burma is the only nation in the region positioned to meet the
shortfall" in global rice production due to shrinking land and increased
The Myanmar Monitor is published by Jefferson Waterman International on
behalf of Myanmar Resources Development Ltd. Information is available at
the Department of Justice, Washington, DC, or by calling 202 216 2249