Canada-Myanmar relations date back to the early 20th century, when the first wave of Canadian companies, such as Manulife, set foot in the country. From January 1942 until July 1945, a significant number of Canadian aircrews and pilots also took part in the Burma Campaign during the Pacific War. Formal diplomatic relations were established following Myanmar’s accession to independence in 1948. However, relations became strained after the 1962 military coup and the decades of military rule that followed. Nevertheless, Canada remained involved throughout this period, in particular by offering humanitarian aid, most notably in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis in 2008.
In 2010, Myanmar launched an ambitious process of reforms to promote democratization, economic liberalization and national peace: new laws protecting freedom of the press and of association were introduced, previously blacklisted individuals were allowed to re-enter the country and the vast majority of political prisoners, though not all of them, were released. The central government and non-state ethnic armed groups also began to take important steps towards a nationwide ceasefire.
In 2012, in recognition of these positive changes, Canada eased its economic sanctions against Myanmar. Most prohibitions under the 2007 Special Economic Measures (Burma) Regulations were suspended, including most of those pertaining to exports, imports, financial services and investment. However, Canada maintained sanctions against certain listed individuals and entities – these are still in place today. A trade embargo on arms and related material, along with related technical and financial assistance, also remains in place.
In March 2013, Canada appointed its first-ever resident Ambassador to Myanmar. At the same time, Canada’s Embassy to Myanmar was established in Yangon, though it was only officially opened in August 2014. In August 2015, a Visa Application Center was opened in Yangon, making it possible for Myanmar citizens to apply for Canadian visas locally.
On November 8, 2015, the National League for Democracy (NLD), the party of Nobel-laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, won a decisive victory in Myanmar’s first largely free and fair general elections in more than five decades. While the constitution, drafted under the former military regime, bars Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming President, she is the country’s de facto Head of Government. In addition to her nomination as State Counsellor (a position akin to that of Prime Minister), she serves as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of the President’s Office.
Canada welcomes these positive developments and encourages Myanmar authorities to pursue further reforms to strengthen human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
In recent years, Canada has considerably increased its engagement in Myanmar, focusing on development cooperation to promote democracy and sustainable economic growth. We also offered support for peacebuilding, training on governance, federalism and human rights, as well as transnational crime. Significant humanitarian assistance has also been provided.
Despite progress, Canada remains concerned about the situation of ethnic and religious minority groups in Myanmar, including the Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic minority which is still the object of widespread discrimination.
Canada’s bilateral development program focuses on projects aligned with the priorities and needs identified by the Government and people of Myanmar. In 2017, the Government of Canada and the Government of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar signed a Memorandum of Understanding to strengthen effective development assistance.
Canada’s bilateral development assistance supports the prosperity and well-being of targeted populations in Myanmar, particularly women, the rural poor and young people. Canada is an active donor, working across the states and regions, and its bilateral development assistance projects support empowering women economically, understanding federalism, promoting inclusive governance, preparing for climate change impacts, and building capacity and information for evidence-based policy-making.
Myanmar also benefits from Canadian development assistance through multilateral, regional and partnership channels. Search the Project Browser to see what Canada is doing to support the prosperity and well-being of targeted populations in Myanmar, particularly women, rural poor and young people.
Federalism and the Peace Process
Canada strongly supports the national peace process in Myanmar and the negotiations between the Government of Myanmar and non-state ethnic armed groups to secure an inclusive and lasting peace following more than 70 years of civil war. Recognizing that establishing a federal system is a key element of the political dialogue in the peace process, Canada has taken a leading role in training on federalism. Through the Forum of Federations, a Canadian organization, Canada is promoting awareness of democracy and federalism among political actors and stakeholders across the country.
Human Rights and Active Citizenship
Protecting human rights and promoting good governance underpin all aspects of Canada’s engagement in Myanmar, and we work closely with local civil society champions to help bring about positive change. We have, for example, provided legal expertise to support national efforts to strengthen legislative protection for freedom of speech and public access to information. We have promoted high-profile human rights documentary film festivals. We have also funded paralegal training for national LGBTI organizations to help protect vulnerable community members. And we have trained grassroots leaders on the roles and responsibilities of local government so that they can advocate more effectively on behalf of their communities. Canada’s efforts towards inclusive democratic development support citizen engagement, deepen understanding of democratic systems and build the capacity of communities to participate in their own development. Each year, we support projects that help to further strengthen Myanmar’s vibrant local civil society.
Canada’s humanitarian assistance to Myanmar is provided on the basis of need, and in line with humanitarian principles. Our support is delivered by experienced humanitarian partners including the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross and Canadian non-governmental organizations. In 2016, Canada provided $5.5 million in humanitarian assistance to Myanmar to help meet the emergency, life-saving needs of crisis-affected and displaced populations.
Given positive developments in Myanmar’s reform process, Canada reinstated General Preferential Tariff (GPT) and Least Developed Country Tariff (LDCT) status for Myanmar in March 2015. The country offers key business opportunities in the areas of infrastructure, information and communication technologies, mining as well as in the oil and gas sector. However, Canadians and Canadian companies planning to conduct activities in Myanmar are encouraged to familiarize themselves with Canada’s remaining sanctions and restrictions, and may wish to consult the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of International Trade’s open letter on doing business in Myanmar. More information is also available on our webpage on Canada’s economic sanctions against Myanmar.
Canada’s bilateral trade volume with Myanmar has grown almost twenty-five-fold since the easing of sanctions in 2012. In 2016, the trade volume amounted to $121.1 million. Canadian imports reached $82.3 million, with export valued at $38.8 million. Nonetheless, partly due to the continuation of some sanctions, the trading relationship remains modest, particularly when considering the size of Myanmar’s population of 52 million, its rich natural resources base, its young labour force, strategic geographic location as well as its close links to other countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Canada and Myanmar are cooperating on a number of security issues, many of them related to border security, counter-terrorism efforts, and smuggling-control operations. We work with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Government of Myanmar in the context of the Container Control Program, in order to improve port controls and reduce the smuggling of illicit goods. As well, Canada provides assistance to Myanmar in counter-terrorism capacity-building, mostly through its Southeast Asian regional programming. Canada is also involved in efforts to stem human trafficking and migrant smuggling by supporting training for immigration and border officers at airports, borders and land frontiers.
Canada also works with Myanmar through ASEAN, of which Myanmar is a member state and Canada is a dialogue partner, as well as in the security-oriented ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF).
- Date Modified: