WASHINGTON – A bipartisan group of senior U.S. lawmakers on Thursday proposed to continue the ban on imports from Myanmar, which is in the midst of uncertain political change, while extending another trade law that has boosted clothing imports from Africa.
The unusual combination is driven by the fast-approaching expiration of existing laws and the desire to continue programs generally regarded as successful by lawmakers.
The bill was introduced in both the Senate and the House of Representatives and supporters hope for quick passage despite partisan fighting on most other issues in Congress.
“This must-do legislation has strong bipartisan and broad industry support. It will benefit U.S. global competitiveness, aid U.S. employment and global development, and strengthen our ties with fifty-five U.S. trading partners in Africa and the Western Hemisphere,” House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, a Michigan Republican, said in statement.
OBAMA CAN LIFT SANCTIONS
The Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act was first passed in 2003 and expires in July.
It required the White House to ban imports from Myanmar, block U.S. support for international loans to the country and impose a visa ban and asset freezes on certain Myanmar government officials.
The Obama administration has already eased some sanctions on Myanmar, which the U.S. government refers to as Burma, in recognition of political reforms that led to the election of Aung San Suu Kyi to parliament.
Suu Kyi, who is now the opposition party leader in Myanmar, spent 15 years under house arrest because of her fight against the country’s military leaders.
The new bill reauthorizes import sanctions for three years, while preserving the White House’s right to waive or terminate those sanctions.
“Burma has made real progress advancing democracy, but we need to maintain pressure to guarantee it continues,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, said.
Another part of the legislation renews a provision that waives U.S. import duties on clothing made in sub-Saharan African countries, even if the fabric or yarn to make the garment comes from a third country such as China.
That provision is set to expire in September, putting U.S. clothing orders from sub-Saharan Africa at risk.
The legislation renews the measure until September 2015, when the entire African Growth and Opportunity Act will be up for renewal. That law was originally passed in 2000.
The bill introduced on Thursday also makes technical corrections and modifications to the rules of origin for duty-free treatment of textile and clothing products from Central American countries and the Dominican Republic.
“This is win-win legislation that builds upon our nation’s goal of strengthening economic relations with Africa, while ensuring that our regional trade agreement with Central America and the Dominican Republic continues to succeed,” Senator Orrin Hatch, an Utah Republican, said.