Senators upset US firms can invest with state oil, gas firm
WASHINGTON – Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman welcomed the easing of US sanctions last week but warned that doing business with the state oil and gas company could put democratic reforms at risk.
President Barack Obama gave the green light on July 11 to companies to invest in Myanmar, in the United States’ broadest and most controversial easing of sanctions so far.
Under the new rules, unveiled in recognition of reforms under President U Thein Sein’s government, US companies will be able to enter into business with state-owned Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE), but must notify the State Department within 60 days.
“We are pleased that US companies will now be able to invest in Burma, a step we have advocated,” Republican McCain and Independent Lieberman, a former Democrat, said on July 12.
“We are concerned, however, that the Obama administration has chosen to permit US firms to do business with MOGE at this time.”
US companies have been pressing for an end to restrictions on investment, fearing they will lose out to European and Asian competitors that already enjoy access to the potentially lucrative economy.
But Obama’s move marks a rare divergence from Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who has warned foreign firms not to partner with MOGE.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent years under house arrest but won a seat in parliament since the reforms, said on a recent tour of Europe that MOGE needed first to sign up to international standards such as the IMF code on transparency.
A new investment law is currently under consideration by Myanmar’s parliament.
Senators McCain and Lieberman said they had hoped Obama would have given Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other legislators more time to produce a new law enabling investment in Myanmar’s energy sector “with a more transparent, accountable and reformed business partner than MOGE is at present”.
The senators’ statement came hours before US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President U Thein Sein were to hold landmark talks in Cambodia on July 13 on the sidelines of a business conference. – AFP