The Hill | 29 March 2021
US suspends trade engagement with Myanmar after deadly crackdown
By Justine Coleman
The United States suspended trade engagement with Myanmar on Monday after the country experienced its most deadly crackdown of protests since the military coup in February.
U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Katherine Tai announced the suspension of U.S. collaboration with Myanmar, which the administration refers to as Burma, through the 2013 Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) “effective immediately,” according to a release from her office.
The office’s statement indicated that the suspension will stay in place “until the return of a democratically elected government.”
“The United States supports the people of Burma in their efforts to restore a democratically elected government, which has been the foundation of Burma’s economic growth and reform,” Tai said in the statement. “The United States strongly condemns the Burmese security forces’ brutal violence against civilians.”
“The killing of peaceful protestors, students, workers, labor leaders, medics, and children has shocked the conscience of the international community,” she added. “These actions are a direct assault on the country’s transition to democracy and the efforts of the Burmese people to achieve a peaceful and prosperous future.”
Under the TIFA, Myanmar’s government had committed to working with the U.S. to back labor rights, economic reforms, development and trade integration. But the USTR noted that reports have surfaced that the Myanmar junta has gone after trade unions and workers for participating in pro-democracy demonstrations.
Myanmar’s military launched a coup against the government led by Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1 in response to the November election results that gave Suu Kyi’s party major wins. Military leaders have claimed the election was affected by fraud, but the country’s election commission dismissed those allegations.
Protesters have taken to the streets in response to the coup, resulting in crackdowns, including on Saturday when more than 100 people were killed in the deadliest day of demonstrations so far and on Sunday when forces fired at a funeral for one of the protest victims.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), in a statement, gave his approval of the USTR’s Monday move, saying, “After the latest horrific bloody attack on civilians by Burma’s military junta, USTR is right to send the message that America won’t go ahead with business as usual."
"I applaud this and other Biden administration actions to impose consequences on this brutal, anti-democratic regime," he added.
President Biden’s administration has already instituted sanctions against Burmese generals, their families and businesses with connections to the military. The U.S. also redirected $42.4 million in assistance away from Myanmar.
“A strong and unified message emerging from the United States has been essential, in our view, to encouraging other countries to join us and pressing for an immediate return to democracy,” the president said last month.