US warns firms over doing business in Myanmar

Demonstrators protest against the military coup and demand the release of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, in Yangon, Myanmar, Feb 6, 2021. - Reuters

WASHINGTON (AFP): The US government warned companies Wednesday (Jan 26) to be extremely wary of doing business in Myanmar, citing the risks of being linked to a military government involved in lawlessness and human rights abuse.

Those involved with businesses controlled by the military regime "run the risk of engaging in conduct that may expose them to significant reputational, financial, and legal risks," including breaking sanctions and money-laundering laws, according to a statement from six cabinet-level departments.

Investors and traders were warned specifically to avoid state-owned enterprises, the gems and precious metals sector, real estate and construction projects, and the arms business.

"These entities and sectors have been identified as primary industries providing economic resources for Burma's military regime," the statement said, using the former popular name for the country.

The statement noted that the European Union and other countries have also placed restrictions on doing business with Myanmar since the military seized power in a coup one year ago and has since conducted a campaign of severe and deadly repression against a popular opposition movement.

"The military has unjustly arrested leaders of the democratically elected government, cut off utilities and travel, and committed serious human rights abuses and other abuses against individuals in Burma, including violently suppressing peaceful protests," the statement said.

It also noted that Myanmar has not adequately implemented standard measures to prevent terrorism financing and money laundering, exposing investors and traders to risks in those areas.

The statement, signed by the departments of State, Treasury, Commerce, Labor and Homeland Security and the US Trade Representative, stressed that it is only an advisory and not a legal order.

But it comes as a number of key foreign companies that have invested in the country have withdrawn as the military government continues to tighten control.

Last Friday, energy giants TotalEnergies and Chevron announced they were exiting Myanmar, following other large firms that have pulled out or frozen investment plans, including Norway's Telenor, British American Tobacco, Voltalia of France and Toyota.

"The situation, in terms of human rights and more generally the rule of law, which have kept worsening in Myanmar... has led us to reassess the situation," TotalEnergies said last week.

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