US suspends all trade engagement with Myanmar until elected government returns

WASHINGTON: The US is immediately suspending all engagement with Myanmar under a 2013 trade and investment agreement until the return of a democratically elected government, US trade representative Katherine Tai said on Monday (Mar 29). 

Saturday was the bloodiest day of protests in Myanmar since the Feb 1 military coup with 114 people killed. Five more were killed on Monday when thousands took to the streets again in opposition to the military returning to power after a decade. 

Tai said in a statement that Myanmar security forces’ killing of peaceful protesters, students, workers and labour leaders and children “has shocked the conscience of the international community”. 

“These actions are a direct assault on the country’s transition to democracy and the efforts of the Burmese people to achieve a peaceful and prosperous future,” said Tai, who was sworn into office on Mar 18.

READ: Myanmar mourns bloodiest day since coup, UN investigator condemns ‘mass murder’

In addition to suspending work on the 2013 framework agreement, Tai said the USTR would consider Myanmar’s situation as it works with the US Congress on reauthorising the Generalised System of Preferences programme, which reduces US tariffs and provides other special trade access for some developing countries.

Participation requires countries to maintain certain worker rights protections, and Tai said reports that Myanmar’s military leaders have targeted trade unions and workers for their role in pro-democracy protests raise serious concerns.

“SHAMEFUL, COWARDLY, BRUTAL”

The US suspension of the trade deal came after President Joe Biden condemned the weekend’s events as “terrible”, while UN rights envoys slammed the “shameful, cowardly, brutal” actions of the security forces.

The UN Security Council will meet on Wednesday to discuss the situation, diplomatic sources said, after Britain called for emergency talks.

READ: Myanmar bloodshed ‘absolutely outrageous’, Biden says after deadliest day

READ: UN Security Council to meet Wednesday on Myanmar: Diplomats

China added its voice to a chorus of international concern, calling for restraint from all sides.

“Violence and bloody clashes do not meet the interests of any party. The victims are the Myanmar people,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said.

Russia on Monday acknowledged it was developing ties with Myanmar after deputy defence minister Alexander Fomin and other officials joined the weekend parade, but said that did not mean it approved of the “tragic events” unfolding.

“We are very concerned by the growing number of civilian casualties,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

READ: US embassy in Myanmar blasts junta for ‘murdering unarmed civilians’

So far, weeks of repeated pleas for restraint and even international sanctions have not persuaded the generals to ease off.

The brutality continued on Monday in Yangon, with three people killed, including a 20-year-old shot dead, rescue workers told AFP.

One person was also killed in the city of Bago, state media said, adding that a police officer also died in Mandalay after being set alight by protesters.