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November 16, 2007

Canada imposing tough sanctions on Myanmar

Canada said yesterday it would impose "the toughest sanctions in the world" on the government of Myanmar in an effort to exert pressure on the military junta after its violent suppression of dissent in September.

"Tougher sanctions against Burma [as Myanmar is also known] are the right thing to do," Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier said in a speech in Toronto in which he called the government of the Southeast Asian country "odious."

"The regime in Burma is abhorrent to Canadian values and the strongest message has to be sent," he said.

The measures will ban all exports from Canada to Myanmar, with the exception of those for humanitarian purposes, and will also halt all imports from Myanmar. All assets linked to designated Myanmarese citizens will be frozen and all new investments by Canadian persons and companies will be banned.

 Mr. Bernier said repression by the junta has grown worse in recent weeks, with the arrest, torture and killing of opponents of the regime. He noted that in their report on Myanmar, former Czech president Vaclav Havel and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu alleged that the regime is responsible for the destruction of villages, forced labour, systematic rape, an illegal drug trade, unchecked spread of HIV and AIDS, and extensive use of child soldiers.

"Each of these factors contravenes what our foreign policy stands for," Mr. Bernier said.

He said the only way to stop the continued intimidation of local populations and the flood of refugees to neighbouring countries is to encourage a "more robust and targeted response by Canada and the international community."

Mr. Bernier's statement notwithstanding, the economic impact on Myanmar's military regime is likely to be minimal. There are virtually no Canadian exports to the country and imports were only $5.8-million in the first nine months of this year, according to Statistics Canada data released Friday.

Canada has exported some pharmaceutical products and shipped some aerospace parts to Myanmar in recent years, but exports to the country are generally "tiny," said Peter Hall, deputy chief economist at Export Development Canada.

Almost half of the $5.8-million in imports have been fish and seafood, according to Statscan's trade division. Woven apparel and vegetables have each accounted for almost $1-million, while other imports include knit apparel, wood, machinery, art, precious stones and straw.

It's a far cry from five years ago when Canada imported $46.3-million in goods from Myanmar, with knit and woven clothing accounting for the lion's share.

The sanctions will also have no impact on Vancouver-based Ivanhoe Mines Ltd., which sold its 50-per-cent stake in a copper mine in Myanmar this year to "an independent third-party trust." The trust is an international firm and not Canadian.

According to documents filed with securities regulators, the trust paid Ivanhoe $6.6-million (U.S.) in July after receiving a dividend from the partnership owning the mine. The trust has taken control of the mine assets with the intent of selling them.

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