The U.S. Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday voted to extend trade sanctions on Burma for three more years.
The legislation was passed by committee to continue a U.S. ban on imports, and must now go to the full Senate.
The legislation, if approved, could be rescinded at any time, as a reward for Burma making continued democratic reforms.
Burmese opposition leader lobbied Sen. Mitch McConnell on Wednesday by telephone to work to remove the trade sanctions. However, the extension of the trade ban appears to have wide support in the US government and is expected to be renewed.
The bill updates legislation first passed in 2003 and which expires near the end of this month. It preserves the White House's authority to waive or terminate the sanctions.
The United States imported $356.4 million of clothing and other goods from Burma in 2002, the last full year before the U.S. import ban was imposed. Imports fell to $275.7 million in 2003 and have been zero in most years since.
The Obama administration eased some investment sanctions last week to allow US companies to invest in Burma and provide services in the country. Only days later, General Electric coorporation sold medical imaging equipment to two private Burmese hospitals, and said it was interested in entering the electrical energy and health sectors, among others.
Sen. Orin Hatch, the ranking Republican member of the finance committee, said on the committee website: “This bill reauthorizes our statutory sanctions regime on Burma. This provides the Administration with the continued flexibility to ease trade and investment rules between the United States and Burma, while at the same time retaining the ability to re-impose sanctions should the situation in Burma deteriorate.
“I am quite hopeful about the change taking place in Burma. The Burmese people have suffered for much too long under the yoke of poverty and oppression.”
Hatch said, “While much work remains, I want to publicly acknowledge the leadership of the current governing party as well as those newly elected representatives in working to forge a new and open Burmese society, one we hope will be founded on the rule of law and economic freedom.”
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus said, “By reauthorizing the import sanctions for three years, we maintain pressure on the Burmese government to undertake reforms.”
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