Statement by U.S.T.R Attaché Ken Schagrin at the WTO Trade Policy Review of Burma
World Trade Organization
March 11, 2014
*As Prepared for Delivery*
We welcome the delegation from Nay Pyi Daw led by Deputy Commerce Minister Dr. Pwint San. This first trade policy review comes at an opportune time, when you are pursuing economic reform in the context of the Framework for Economic and Social Reform and formulation of the National Comprehensive Development Plan. We look forward to learning more about your progress, objectives, and challenges faced.
The Government Report notes that your country was a founding member of the GATT and was present during postwar discussions on the creation of a global trading system. Within the GATT archives, there is a document of historic interest and relevance to this review – a statement by Burma’s delegate to the Havana Conference in 1947, in which he described his country’s objectives for the trading system taking shape. Noting that the country was undergoing a rapid process of political development, he expressed hope that trade would power reconstruction, raise material standards of living including working conditions for the people, facilitate new manufacturing activities beyond the field of primary production, and – he said – bring about “the greater happiness of a great mass of humanity and be an instrument of peace.”
Today those aspirations remain. In its report, the government acknowledges decades of isolation, economic mismanagement, and stagnation. This legacy has brought per capita GDP to the lowest level in ASEAN and the second lowest level in Asia. Despite your country’s great potential and its success as an exporter of products such as rice many years ago, it has missed decades of trade and export-led economic growth that has benefited so many other Asian economies. This is why reform is so vital. It creates the potential for positive change. The United States hopes the reforms you have started will continue and lead to inclusive, participatory economic growth, opportunity and peace for your people – consistent with the vision of its delegate to the Havana Conference 70 years ago.
We note with interest the government’s emphasis on the importance of transparency, and specific actions including making information available on the Ministry of Commerce website, improving the quality of statistical information, and moving to internationally recognized standards of openness as part of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. It also will be important to increase participation in WTO meetings and to pay greater attention to specific WTO obligations, including notifications. These actions will help establish a stronger foundation for a market economy by improving public accountability, enhancing the rule of law, and reducing corruption, as well as provide traders the information they need to do business and connect to global supply chains.
We know that senior Government officials and leading members of Parliament want to achieve inclusive economic growth with tangible benefits such as jobs. Transparency and open policy development are essential for inclusive growth. For trade-related issues, we encourage you to consult with the full range of stakeholders in the policy development process including, where appropriate, labor groups and organizations, civil society, foreign companies interested in your market, and non-governmental organizations with expertise to share. If it would be helpful to you, we could consider launching a technical assistance program in the context of our Trade and Investment Framework Agreement to provide an overview of the trade policy development processes that countries use to consult with and inform stakeholders.
Among the reforms under way, we recognize positive steps in administering customs policies, including the elimination of the linkage between export receipts and import licensing, and the removal of import licensing requirements for certain products. The Secretariat Report adds that fewer goods are subject to export licensing. During this review, we would be interested in learning more about your Government’s plans for further reforms in this area, which could improve the availability of goods needed by your economy as it develops. Further reforms also would have other advantages, too, including reducing the scope for rent seeking by traders wanting to control licenses and bringing your trade regime into greater conformity with WTO rules. Liberalization efforts that simplify conditions for import and export will support the growth of your country’s small and medium-sized enterprises as well as create an environment more conducive for foreign investors.
We welcome a number of positive developments on intellectual property (IP); including work towards new legislation on patents, copyrights, trademarks, and industrial designs, as well as discussion of the creation of a single national IP office and specialized IP court. We note that you are working closely with the World Intellectual Property Organization on these initiatives and believe that IP stakeholders in the United States also would be interested in supporting your efforts. In light of the capacity constraints identified in the Secretariat Report, we also are prepared to look for technical assistance opportunities through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
More broadly, we appreciate the efforts the government has made to address important labor concerns which have affected its ability to fully integrate into the global economy. As noted in the Government Report, these include your commitments to eliminate forced labor by 2015 as part of its collaboration with the International Labor Organization (ILO), ratification of ILO Convention 182 on the worst form of child labor, passing the Labor Organizations Law, which provides for freedom of association, and working to advance an Employment and Skill Development Law.
In our written questions, we sought information about policies in these and other areas, including Sanitary and Phytosanitary measures, telecommunications, competition, state trading, and plans for privatization of state owned enterprises. The large number of our questions reflects our interest in your reforms, as well as our desire for these reforms to lead to lasting positive change for the people of your country.
We look forward to your responses and hope this review has been useful to your reform program.