LOS ANGELES, June 19 – Even as Western nations anticipate the lifting of trade restrictions against Myanmar due to last week’s positive report by the International Labour Organization, oil and gas firms have been warned against forming joint ventures with the country’s state-owned oil company.
“The EU fully recognizes the importance of the ILO report and considers this a positive step forward in the process of the reinstatement of preferential market access for Myanmar /Burmese products to the European market,” said EU Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
The EU statement came just a day after the ILO issued a positive statement concerning the government of Myanmar, also known as Burma, and its progress regarding labor issues that had seen the imposition of punitive restrictions on the Southeast Asian nation more than ten years ago.
“The International Labour Organization has lifted its restrictions on the full participation of Myanmar in its activities and decided to review the progress on the elimination of forced labour in the country next year,” the ILO statement said.
Myanmar was banned from any meetings or technical assistance from the ILO in 1999 after failing to implement recommendations of an investigation by the UN body, which found evidence of “widespread and systematic use” of forced labor by the authorities.
That view has changed following a high-level mission of the ILO to Myanmar this month, with an agreement reached on forced labor after members of the ILO mission met President Thein Sein, senior government ministers and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
“The Government of Myanmar and the ILO have agreed on a joint strategy for eliminating forced labor,” the ILO announced, adding that, “the Government acknowledges the need for immediate action on this strategy with a view of implementing it before the declared target date of 2015.”
The ILO’s changed position opened the way for the EU to begin relaxing some of its restrictions on trade with Myanmar. Ashton and de Gucht said they were studying the ILO report, but hoped to introduce legislation to reinstate Myanmar’s trade access.
THE POSITIVE AND THE SUCCESSFUL
In her speech before the ILO, Suu Kyi called for the investment to create jobs for young people, saying that unemployed youth “lose confidence” in the society that has failed to give them the chance to realize their potential.
“It’s not so much joblessness as hopelessness that threatens our future,” she said, urging the invitation of foreign direct investment that results in job creation, as well as coordinated social, political and economic policies “that will put our country once again on the map of the positive and the successful.”
Suu Kyi thought oil firms Total SA and Chevron Corporation, long targets of human rights activists, should continue to operate in the country.
“I have to say that I find that Total is a responsible investor in the country, even though there was a time when we did not think they should be encouraging the military regime by investing in Burma,” she said.
HUMAN RIGHTS, ENVIRONMENT
“They were sensitive to human rights and environmental issues and now that we’ve come to a point in time when we would like investors who are sensitive to such issues, I am certainly not going to persuade Chevron or Total to pull out,” she said.
But the political activist warned international oil companies against forming joint ventures with the state-owned Myanmar Oil & Gas Enterprise, citing its dubious business contracts with CNPC.
“Quite frankly none of us know what’s in those contracts, this is what I mean by lack of transparency in the country,” said Suu Kyi, adding that “Lack of transparency leads to all kinds of suspicions that shore up trouble for the future.”
Suu Kyi urged caution when dealing with what she called “extractive industries” such as oil and gas.
ABUNDANT ENERGY RESOURCES
“The reason why we have to be careful about the extractive industries is because what you extract doesn’t go back in, and secondly because they don’t provide as many jobs as some other industries,” she said.
“Burma is a land with a lot of energy resources. We do not want to dissipate it. I would like to see a sound effective energy policy in Burma and this should be related to the kind of extractive investments that we invite in.”
Very clearly, Myanmar has made steady progress in its efforts at democratization, and investment is being viewed as a means of furthering the country’s political development.
If Suu Kyi has anything to do with the matter, then companies willing to accept their responsibility as engines of political change clearly will succeed in the Myanmar now emerging under watchful Western eyes.
© Glamma Productions Inc. 2012