U.S. eases Myanmar import ban

Sep 26, 2012, 7:12 PM EDT

NEW YORK (AP) — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday the U.S. will ease its import ban on Myanmar that had been a key plank of remaining American economic sanctions.

"In recognition of the continued progress toward reform and in response to requests from both the government and the opposition, the United States is taking the next step in normalizing our commercial relationship," Clinton said during a meeting with President Thein Sein on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.

"We will begin the progress of easing restrictions on imports of Burmese goods into the United States," Clinton said. "We hope this will provide more opportunities for your people to sell their goods into our market."

The announcement follows the Obama administration's resumption of normal diplomatic relations and the suspension of a U.S. investment ban.

"We are very grateful for the actions of the United States," Thein Sein said.

Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is on a landmark U.S. visit that coincides with the president's visit, last week voiced support for the step, saying Myanmar should not depend on the U.S. to keep up its momentum for democracy. For years she advocated sanctions as a way of putting political pressure on the then-ruling junta.

The Myanmar opposition leader is revered by both Republicans and Democrats in Washington, and her endorsement is a key guide for U.S. policymakers.

In August, Congress renewed sanctions legislation, but allowing Obama to waive its provisions. Wednesday's announcement on the import ban begins that process. Easing the ban also requires the issuance of a Treasury license.

The Obama administration has been at pains to not let Nobel winner Suu Kyi's high-profile U.S. trip overshadow Thein Sein, who still faces opposition within Myanmar's military to political reform.

The Myanmar president is due to address the General Assembly on Thursday, and he is not expected to cross paths with Suu Kyi, who is scheduled to leave New York late Wednesday.

On Wednesday, Suu Kyi addressed a high-level U.N. meeting on education on the sidelines of the General Assembly.

In Washington last week, she met privately with President Barack Obama and was presented with Congress' highest award, cementing her remarkable transition from dissident to globe-trotting stateswoman.

Congress has also initiated legislation that would allow the U.S. to provide financial aid to impoverished Myanmar through international financial institutions like the World Bank.


Associated Press writer Bradley Klapper contributed to this report.