Canada's Official Policy on Burma

Canada's Official Policy on Burma
Canada supports democratic reform in Burma while at the same time it allows Canadian companies to trade and invest in partnership with this country's military dictatorship.

In 1988, Canada cut off all overseas aid to Burma along with many other Western countries in condemnation of the August 8, 1988 (8.8.88) massacre in which the military gunned down thousands of unarmed pro-democracy demonstrators in the streets.

From 1988 to 1997, Canada imposed various condemnatory measures against the military regime, but still held that constructive engagement was the best way to democratize the country. However, after years of unsuccessful attempts to "constructively engage" Burma's military rulers, the Canadian government decided in 1997 to introduce limited punitive measures or Selective Economic Measures, against Burma.

Limited Measures Ineffective

"Limited" is the operative word. The more accurate word would be "voluntary". It means that, unless Burma starts a major war in Southeast Asia, Canadian companies can do as much business as they want with the country's military rulers.

And Canadian companies are indeed taking advantage of this weak policy. Since the measures were imposed in 1997, imports to Canada from Burma have more than tripled, now at over $60 million (See Imports). Telecommunications giant Nortel Networks (which has sold cellular telephone technology through its subsidiary Telrad, to a regime which outlaws fax machines), TransCanada Pipelines (which helped build a controversial gas pipeline whose preparation involved forced relocations of villagers as well as forced labour), and Ivanhoe Mines (whose CEO, Robert Friedland, who is wanted by the US Environmental Protection Agency for past transgressions - See Mining Campaign) - these are just a few of the Canadian firms who are doing business with a regime whose human rights abuses include summary execution, torture, rape and arbitrary imprisonment.

Nobel laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi is the leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD) which won 82% of the votes in the 1990 elections. She and her party have been urging foreign countries for years not to do business with the Burmese military regime. She says "no amount of aid or investment will benefit our people. Profits from business enterprises will merely go towards enriching a small, already very privileged elite."

According to the Sunday Times of London, most countries are taking heed of Suu Kyi's pleas. Foreign investment in Burma has fallen from US$777.4 million to US $429.5 million in 1999 alone. Unfortunately, Canadian companies are responsible for part of that $429.5 million.

List of Canadian government's Current Measures

  • No bilateral aid since 1988
  • No multilateral aid through international financial institutions
  • No commercial packages (the only G8 country to do so) or Export
  • Development
  • Corporation Assistance
  • No visas to Junta officials
  • No diplomatic presence in Rangoon
  • No trade promotions
  • No military sales
  • Selective Economic Measures: Burma on Area Control List, No General
  • Preferential Tariff eligibility

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