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The US is to ease a ban on imports from Burma, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told President Thein Sein, lifting the last major trade sanction on the country.
The move, which will have to be carried out in conjunction with Congress, comes just over a week after democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi started a historic visit to the US by calling for an end to sanctions.
Clinton Wednesday told the Burma’s president that in recognition of the rapid reforms made by his Southeast Asian nation, once ruled by a military junta, “the United States is taking the next step in normalising our commercial relationship.”
“We will begin the process of easing restrictions on imports of Burmese goods into the United States. We hope this will provide more opportunities for your people to sell their goods into our market.”
The ban on imports from Burma was imposed under a 2003 act by Congress, although there was little trade at the time, with America mostly importing some hardwoods and gems, and some garments.
US officials will now have to examine each sector with Congress and decide how best to go about easing the sanctions.
Thein Sein met Clinton Wednesday ahead of his address to the UN General Assembly on Thursday, during a landmark visit to the United States that coincides with a triumphal American tour by Suu Kyi.
“The people of Myanmar [Burma] are very pleased with the easing of economic sanctions by the United States. We are very grateful for the actions of the United States,” he told Clinton, as the two leaders met for the third time.
Thein Sein is expected to outline to the UN his plans for the future of his fast-changing nation during his first trip to the US since taking power last year and ushering in a period of rapid reform.
The move to ease the import ban comes after Washington lifted sanctions on US investment in Burma in June.
A senior State Department official said the talks were very “warm,” adding it was “clear that Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi make a very effective team.”
“We have watched as you and your government have continued the steady process of reform and we have been pleased to respond with specific steps which recognise the government’s efforts and encourage further reform,” Clinton added.
Clinton and Thein Sein also discussed political issues, including Burma’s reconciliation process, and the landmines that still litter the countryside.
Clinton “noted that a lot of work still needs to be done,” he said, adding that the chief
US diplomat had again highlighted the issue of political prisoners.
She also again called on Burma to “cut off any kind of military relationship with North Korea.”
The two also talked about tensions in western Arakan state, where about 80 people, both Buddhists and Rohingya, were killed in unrest in June.
Burma’s government considers the estimated 800,000 Rohingya in the country to be foreigners while many citizens see them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and view them with hostility.
Suu Kyi has been feted since arriving in the country last week. The Nobel laureate has been received with acclaim already receiving the Congressional Gold Medal, the top honor bestowed by the legislature. She also met President Barack Obama at the White House.
But while US officials have taken pains to stress that Thein Sein deserves credit for Burma’s rapid pace of change after nearly half a century of junta rule, there are no official plans for him to meet Obama.
The US last week lifted 2007 sanctions on the Burmese president and lower house parliament speaker Shwe Mann, removing them from the US Treasury’s list of “Specially Designated Nationals.”
The agenda for Suu Kyi’s unprecedented US tour includes nearly 100 events across the country but rules out a chance of her crossing paths with Thein Sein.