U.S. Pushes Myanmar Firms to Get Off Blacklist

The U.S. is telling Myanmar companies it once designated as cronies of Myanmar’s former military junta now may be the time to get off the American blacklist. The effort highlights just how much of Myanmar’s economy remains under sanctions and the challenge for companies seeking to wade into the new terrain.

State Department officials met with blacklisted businessmen in Yangon at the end of June, to encourage them to apply to have their names cleared, if they were prepared to show their commitment to Myanmar’s democratic transition, officials said. To be granted the de-listing, officials said, companies would need to demonstrate that they are taking steps to sever their ties to Myanmar’s military and prove they are not committing human rights abuses.

“We wanted to make it clear to [blacklisted companies], if they are prepared to take these steps, there is a path forward,” a State Department official said.

The effort is part of a broader outreach to the business community in Myanmar that will include a visit next month by the State Department’s assistant secretary of economic and business affairs Charles H. Rivkin to meet U.S. companies in Yangon.

The outreach highlights the challenge for companies seeking fresh opportunities that opened in Myanmar after the U.S. began lifting a near total ban on new business in the country in 2012. Companies such as Coca-Cola Co. and Western Union Co. have already made investments in the country.

But despite the sanctions easing, many of the potential partners in the country remain on the U.S. blacklist, known as Specially Designated Nationals, making any deals a huge compliance challenge. There are currently around 120 Myanmar companies and individuals on the blacklist, according to U.S Treasury records. The U.S. Treasury Department blacklists Myanmar companies because of alleged ties to the generals who ruled the country until 2011, when a civilian government was established.

But decades of military rule mean much of the economy is still controlled by companies with deep military ties, experts say.

“Most of the big economic players in the country are still designated,” said Erich Ferrari, an attorney who specializes in sanctions.

That issue was demonstrated in a separate U.S. visit to Myanmar by Secretary of State John Kerry last week, when his delegation stayed in a hotel owned by a businessman on the blacklist, the Wall Street Journal reported. The State Department’s stay was organized by Myanmar’s foreign government, and a hotel stay doesn’t violate U.S. sanctions. But the situation illustrated the challenge of doing business in a country still under sanction.

“Japanese and Chinese companies have been emboldened to go in and make deals,” Mr. Ferrari said. “But U.S. companies worry that any deal is going to touch on an SDN.”

Myanmar companies that do apply for de-listing from the U.S. Department of Treasury will likely have to wait for years, said Mr. Ferrari, who represents firms seeking to get off the blacklist.

And for companies probing business deals in Myanmar, it’s unclear whether the current easing of sanctions will last. The U.S. is already coming under criticism from human rights groups and some lawmakers who allege that Myanmar’s military continues to commit atrocities, and is blocking opposition leader of Aung San Suu Kyi from running for presidency. “The SDN list is being used as an undeserved carrot for [Myanmar’s military] and its cronies on the SDN list,” said Simon Billenness interim executive director of U.S. Campaign for Myanmar.

Source: Risk & Compliance Journal

NB: Take note that Myanmar has been taken off the US Sanction List by President Obama’s Executive Order signed on 7th October 2016. See US terminated remaining sanctions against Myanmar on 7 Oct 2016.

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