The United States on Friday lifted a nearly decade-old ban on most imports from Myanmar, saying it was hoping to encourage recent reforms days before a landmark visit by President Barack Obama.
The Obama administration said that the world’s largest economy would open up to products from the long-isolated nation formerly known as Burma with the exception of gems, a sector seen as a major driver of corruption and violence.
The move is “intended to support the Burmese government’s ongoing reform efforts and to encourage further change, as well as to offer new opportunities for Burmese and American businesses,” a statement said.
The statement, issued by the State Department and Treasury Department, said Myanmar’s government and opposition icon Aung San Suu Kyi both supported the step to “further integrate their country into the global economy.”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had pledged to normalize trade relations with Myanmar when she met in September in New York with President Thein Sein, who has startled critics by launching a wave of democratic reforms.
Obama on Monday will become the first sitting US president to visit Myanmar, a trip that just years ago would be considered unthinkable. Aides said Obama would encourage further change in the nation historically in China’s orbit.
The administration’s statement said that despite the “positive changes,” the United States remained concerned about continued political prisoners, ethnic conflict, corruption and Myanmar’s lingering military ties to North Korea.
Alongside the announcement on imports, the Treasury Department added seven names to a blacklist of firms in Myanmar with which US companies are barred from doing business.
Some human rights groups have accused Obama of moving too quickly, saying that he could use the prospect of a trip or the easing of sanctions as incentives for steps such as freeing remaining political prisoners or ensuring free elections in the future.