Canada is lifting the blanket sanctions it had imposed on Myanmar in an effort to encourage the country’s surprisingly rapid reforms.
Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a former prisoner, will now take a seat in the country’s parliament after her party nearly swept April 1 by-elections, and Ottawa has decided it’s time to encourage reforms that some inside the military-dominated regime are still resisting.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, who travelled to Myanmar in March to signal that Ottawa would offer support if the reforms continue, said on Tuesday that Canada is “living up to our part of the bargain.”
“We put in sanctions to try to encourage the government to change course, and they changed course in a major way,” he said.
Since Myanmar’s president, Thein Sein, a former general, took power a year ago, he has begun reforms that once seemed unthinkable, releasing political prisoners, cutting ceasefire deals with many ethnic rebels, and allowing Ms. Suu Kyi and her party to campaign.
In Ottawa, the Conservatives, who often touted their sanctions against Myanmar as the toughest in the world, found themselves in a sea change. Virtually all trade or economic exchanges with Myanmar were banned. Now almost anything goes – except that prohibitions on arms sales remain in place.
There has been debate about whether the sanctions should be dropped all at once. The European Union has already suspended its sanctions, and the United States is moving to follow suit, but some opposition activists say sanctions should be lifted gradually, in line with further reforms.
But Mr. Baird said the lifting of sanctions is intended to encourage the reformist side in a battle within the country’s regime. The potential for foreign trade and investment could provide hope for Myanmar’s moribund economy, still poor despite the rise of the neighbouring “tiger” economies of Southeast Asia.
“We’re seeing the beginning of some profound changes. Within the government [of Myanmar] frankly, there’s debates going on,” Mr. Baird said. “Some people are for reform, notably the President, and others are against the reforms, and others are sitting on the fence. We want to say to those people sitting on the fence to join the camp for reform. And that’s what we’re doing today.”