US to boost Myanmar trade ties

WASHINGTON - The United States is moving to boost trade ties with Myanmar days after the European Union lifted sanctions as companies seek access to the reformed military dictatorship.

From toothpaste to tinned fruit, cosmetics to soft drinks, global firms have Myanmar firmly in their sights as the nation's 60 million people find themselves thrust onto the frontline of consumerism. (AFP File Photo)

Acting US Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis headed to Myanmar on Wednesday to begin talks on a framework agreement covering trade and investment, he said in a telephone interview on Wednesday from Hanoi, where he met with Vietnamese government officials.

Two days ago, the EU cited Myanmar's remarkable process of reform when it eliminated all trade restrictions except for an arms embargo.

The US talks with Myanmar reflect "the great interest that we're hearing from stakeholders back in the US about that market," Mr Marantis said.

Myanmar President Thein Sein's shift towards democracy since taking power two years ago has bolstered trade ties with Western nations, attracting companies such as Google, General Electric, and Norway's Telenor ASA. Human rights groups have warned that lifting sanctions may lead to abuses as anti-Muslim violence spreads in the country.

President Barack Obama last year authorised US companies to invest in Myanmar for the first time since 1997, while continuing to block ventures with businesses connected to Myanmar's former junta. Since then the US has also authorised imports of most goods from Myanmar and allowed US citizens to open accounts at four banks in the country.

The US has Trade and Investment Framework Agreements with dozens of countries to outline principles for dialogue on trade and investment issues, according to the USTR website. The agency this month also proposed giving Myanmar and neighbouring Laos preferential access to the US market under a programme to boost trade with poorer countries.

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