A motion opposing economic sanctions imposed against Myanmar was overwhelmingly approved by parliamentarians at a Pyidaungsu Hluttaw session on March 25.
Following discussion by nine representatives, the motion was approved 625 to four, with five abstentations.
Minister for Agriculture and Irrigation U Htay Oo, general secretary of the majority Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), submitted the proposal the previous day. It generated more discussion than any other proposal submitted since sessions began on March 9
Four USDP representatives, including minister-to-be Wunna Kyaw Htin U Win Myint, and one MP each from the National Democratic Force (NDF), Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP), Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP), Unity and Democracy Party (Kachin State), All Mon Region Democracy Party, as well as one former NDF representative, seconded the proposal.
Most participants in the discussion pointed to sanctions’ impact on the economy, particularly in terms of foreign investment, tourism, employment and money transfers, with one representative arguing sanctions were “violating human rights”.
Former deputy leader of the NDF, U Thein Nyunt, urged the new government to introduce a foreign policy that addresses the issue, as “sanctions also have effects on the West Bloc, and ASEAN countries are demanding lifting sanctions”.
U Hla Maung, also known as U Naing Hla Maung, from Chaungzon in Mon State, suggested wording the proposal differently for maximum effect, changing “oppose” to “request”.
He said it was necessary for the nation to have a multi-party democracy system before foreign countries would consider lifting sanctions.
“Only when the multi-party democracy system can be realised practically, will all democratic nations of the world support Myanmar. Therefore, the US and the European countries must lift the sanctions,” the All Mon Region Democracy Party representative said.
Daw Nan Wah Nu, the SNDP’s representative for Kunhing, also took part in the discussion, saying that economic sanctions hurt both “sanction imposers and victims”.
The SNDP is one of five ethnic parties that have released a joint statement calling for the removal of economic sanctions on Myanmar.
Chairman of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Wunna Kyaw Htin U Win Myint, told the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw – the combined upper and lower houses – that as a result of economic sanctions Myanmar’s trade with Asian countries had increased from US$878 million in 1987-88 to more than $12 billion.
“The contribution to trade with Europe and America declined sharply from 30 percent in 1990 to only 5pc,” he said, adding that the sanctions also harm the nation’s export competitiveness.
U Tun Aung Kyaw from the RNDP, Dr Myat Nyana Soe of the NDF, Daw Dwe Bu of the Unity and Democracy Party (Kachin State) and Dr Pwint Hsan of the USDP also discussed the proposal, while another MP from the USDP revealed that about 50,000 women had lost their jobs as a result of sanctions.
“Many women [who lost jobs] became sex workers and many fell victims to unfair treatment and forced marriage abroad,” said Dr Myat Myat Ohn Khin, a former government official.
Minister for Finance and Revenue U Hla Tun entered into the discussion by criticising the World Bank and International Monetary Fund for stopping financial assistance to Myanmar.
He also said the Myanmar people were missing out on $2.5 billion in Official Development Assistance relative to countries such as Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Sri Lanka.
“Such amount of money is equal to one-year proceeds of selling natural gas from Myanmar,” the minister said.
The US government officially imposed trade sanctions on Myanmar in 1997 and import sanctions in 2003, leading to the closure of about 180 textile factories, he said.