Obama eases U.S. sanctions on Myanmar

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Wednesday eased sanctions against Myanmar to allow U.S. companies to invest there, calling it a “strong signal” of support for political reform taking root in the southeast Asian country.

An elderly woman rests in front of a bank in Yangon May 27, 2012. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

But Obama said Washington remained concerned about the lack of investment transparency as well as the military’s role in Myanmar’s economy and made clear that U.S. firms would be required to make detailed disclosures on their dealings there.

“Today the United States is easing restrictions to allow U.S. companies to responsibly do business in Burma,” Obama said in a statement, praising the country for “significant progress along the path to democracy.”

The moves fulfills a May 17 pledge by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to relax U.S. restrictions on investment and financial services in recognition of Myanmar’s reforms over the last 15 months as it emerges from nearly half a century of authoritarian military rule.

Myanmar’s quasi-civilian government took office in March 2011 and has started overhauling its economy, easing media censorship, legalizing trade unions and protests and freeing political prisoners.

“Easing sanctions is a strong signal of our support for reform, and will provide immediate incentives for reformers and significant benefits to the people of Burma,” Obama said.

But he also said the transition in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, remains unfinished and made clear that a number of sanctions would remain on the books for now.

And Obama said that Myanmar’s military- and Defense Ministry-owned entities would not be given any of the new privileges that Washington was granting.

U.S. companies will be asked to report on their activities in line with international corporate governance standards, Obama said, reflecting concern about corruption in the country.

In what he called a clear message to the Myanmar government and military officials, he also authorized Clinton to tighten sanctions on ” those who undermine the reform process, engage in human rights abuses, contribute to ethnic conflict or participate in military trade with North Korea.”

Reporting By Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Xavier Briand