WASHINGTON — The United States said Monday that it was sending two senior officials to Myanmar to promote trade, a prospect unthinkable until recent reforms led to an easing of economic sanctions.
Robert Hormats, the under secretary of state in charge of economic growth, and Francisco Sanchez, the under secretary of commerce for international trade, will visit Myanmar on Saturday and Sunday, the State Department said.
The officials will visit the capital Naypyidaw and the commercial hub Yangon "to support Burma's reform process by promoting economic and business engagement with government officials," a statement said, referring to Myanmar by its former name.
Hormats and Sanchez will join a delegation of the US-ASEAN Business Council, which promotes trade between the United States and Southeast Asia and has recently advocated greater business ties with Myanmar.
President Barack Obama's administration is easing restrictions on US investment in Myanmar in hopes of offering an incentive after a dramatic year of reforms in a country that has been isolated for decades.
But unlike the European Union and Asian nations, the United States has kept in place a number of sanctions including a ban on imports from Myanmar such as gems, which are seen as providing revenue for the military.
Business groups have called for further movement, saying that US companies are being put at a disadvantage, but human rights groups have pressed for the administration to maintain some sanctions as leverage.
Since taking over last year, Myanmar's President Thein Sein has surprised even some erstwhile skeptics by freeing prisoners and launching talks with opposition icon Aung San Suu Kyi, who was elected to parliament.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton paid a landmark visit in December to Myanmar where she pressed other concerns, including calling for an end to violence against ethnic minorities in the diverse country.
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