April 29, 2013
Marantis, the first American trade minister to visit the country, explored with senior government officials opportunities to rebuild production and trade capacity in Burma through mechanisms such as a potential trade and investment framework agreement (TIFA), which would formalize bilateral dialogue on trade and investment issues. Marantis also discussed the possible reinstatement of benefits under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), which allows for the duty-free entry into the United States of many goods from beneficiary countries, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) said.
“This is a country experiencing great changes and challenges, and trade and investment can help to support the reforms that will ultimately grow employment and raise the living standards here,” said Marantis. “Working together, we can create opportunities bilaterally and regionally that will benefit both our economies — including the people of this country who need the benefits of economic growth and development.”
In Burma, Marantis met with Senior Economic Minister U Soe Thane, Commerce Minister U Win Myint, Deputy Labor Minister U Myint Thein, and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, whose views he sought on the potential role of trade in improving daily life for citizens.
Both the possibility of the TIFA and GSP figured prominently in discussions. Burma’s GSP eligibility was revoked in 1989 because of concerns about workers’ rights, including with regard to forced labor. In addition to the government meetings in which the U.S. statutory requirements for GSP eligibility were discussed, officials from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative met separately with the local International Labour Organization representative to discuss current steps to advance labor reforms, including issues of forced labor and freedom to associate, USTR said.
In a speech at the American Center in Rangoon, Marantis encouraged an audience of students and professors to prepare for the opportunities that greater trade and investment openness will bring. Marantis also sought the views of U.S. businesses on the challenges and opportunities for doing business in Burma.
“Trade and investment are something we all need, something we can all do together,” Marantis said in remarks prepared for delivery at the American Center. “And there are so many ways that America wants to work with you — bilaterally, in the region, and where it all began for you, in the halls of multilateral global trade.”
“Your position at the crossroads of Asia makes you a very attractive partner to the United States. And you are poised for leadership in the region,” Marantis also said.
On April 16, USTR began the process of seeking public comments on Burma’s GSP eligibility (and the eligibility of Laos) and will continue to consult with Congress in this regard. A public hearing on this issue will take place at USTR on June 4. More information on the public comments for this issue and the rulemaking process in the United States is available on a multiagency U.S. government website.