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Issue 14, 2003 (24 July)
 Congress Passes Bill Banning Imports from Myanmar

On 15 July the House of Representatives approved by an overwhelming 418-2 vote the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act of 2003 (HR 2330). The Senate approved a slightly different version of the measure (S 1215) by a 97-1 vote on 10 June, but to avoid a conference the Senate took up the House-passed bill on 16 July, passing it by a 94-1 vote. President George Bush is expected to sign the measure into law in the week of 21 July.

The import ban will remain in force until Burma (as Myanmar is called in the US) has met certain human rights, democracy and counter-narcotics co-operation criteria. The bill has to be renewed by the US Congress annually and has a three-year sunset provision. Congressman Lantos (Democrat-California), the original sponsor of the bill, underscored that the sanctions would be lifted immediately once Burma returns to democracy.

The US already prohibits US investment in Burma and also denies the country duty-free treatment under the US Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) programme. Nevertheless, Burma continues to export some goods to the US. In fact the US continues to be Burma's largest export market, the destination for about 25% of Burma's exports, worth US$ 356 million in 2002. A significant portion of this trade involves textile and apparel products, which accounted for roughly 85% of Burma's total exports in 2002.

The legislation will impose a near total ban of US imports from Burma, affecting any article produced, manufactured, mined, grown or assembled in Burma. In addition to this general ban, it also contain a specific "ban against trade that supports the military regime", identifying specific Burmese companies. The legislation also freezes the US assets of the Burmese regime, prohibits the US government from supporting assistance to Burma by international financial institutions and expands the existing ban on entry into the US of officials of the military junta. These sanctions will come into force 30 days after the president has signed the legislation into law.