Since 2010, Burma has embarked on a reform process intended to break with more than four decades of military rule. Based on the 2008 Constitution, the reforms officially seek to establish a liberal democracy, the opening of the economy and the signature of peace agreements with the main minority groups. Canada welcomes the recent reforms and supports a peaceful transition in Burma that respects human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
Canada-Burma relations date back to the early 20th century, when the first Canadian companies, such as Manulife, set foot in the country. During the Second World War, a significant number of Canadian aircrews and pilots took part in the Burma campaign against Imperial Japan, from January 1942 until July 1945. Formal relations between the two countries were established following the independence of Burma in 1948 but became more tense after the 1962 military coup and the decades of military rule that followed. Nevertheless, Canada remained involved throughout this period, in particular through development projects and humanitarian aid, as in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis in 2008.
On April 24, 2012, in recognition of the changes taking place since 2010 and following the election of U Thein Sein as President in 2011, Canada eased its economic sanctions against Burma. Most prohibitions of the 2007 Special Economic Measures (Burma) Regulations (the “Burma Regulations”) were suspended, including those pertaining to exports, imports, financial services and investment. However, the amended Burma Regulations still include sanctions against certain listed individuals and entities. It also continues to forbid trade in arms and related material along with related technical and financial assistance.
In July 2012, the Minister of Foreign Affairs announced that Canada would establish an Embassy in Burma, to be located in Rangoon (Yangon). Canada’s first-ever resident Ambassador was appointed in March 2013 and presented credentials to President U Thein Sein in August of the same year. Canada’s new Chancery at the Centrepoint Towers was officially opened by former-Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird, in August 2013. In August 2015, a Visa Application Center was also opened in Yangon.
Since the 2010 opening of the country, Canada has considerably increased its engagement in Burma, focusing especially on security cooperation, human rights and governance training, as well as humanitarian assistance. Burma was identified as a country of focus for the Government of Canada’s international cooperation in 2014, and progress is being made to develop programming in support to sustainable economic growth, poverty reduction, gender equality, and democratic governance in Burma. More information is available on our webpage on Canada’s International Development Projects in Burma.
Canada and Burma are cooperating on a number of security issues, many of them related to border security and smuggling-control operations. As such, we are currently working with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the government of Burma in the Container Control Program, which aims to improve port controls in order to reduce the risk that containers are used for the smuggling of illicit goods. 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.
Human rights and civic education
Canada is working with multiple partners in order to promote civic education, sensitize the Burmese to LGBT rights and improve the overall Human Rights situation. For example, we have supported many civil society groups such as Open Myanmar Initiative and Human Rights Human Dignity Documentary Film Making. We also continue to work with groups such as PEN Myanmar.
Poverty reduction and sustainable economic growth
As a recognition of the progress made in Burma towards greater democracy and reforms, the Government of Canada forgave the entire debt ($8,306,202.63) owed by the Republic of the Union of Myanmar in October 2014. Canada furthered its support in 2014-2015 by approving a $4.3 milliongrant to UNDP to improve data collection and analysis; and a contribution of more than $16 million to the Mennonite Economic Development Authorities to work with Burmese partners in support of women entrepreneurs.
Canada’s humanitarian assistance to Burma is channelled through experienced humanitarian organizations in the United Nations system, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and Canadian non-governmental organizations. In 2014, Canada provided $8.1 million in humanitarian assistance funding to Burma to help meet the needs of crisis-affected and displaced populations. This included supporting the World Food Programme to provide food assistance to as many as 800,000 displaced people. In response to flooding in August 2015, Canada provided $2 million in emergency humanitarian assistance to Burma. More information can be found on our web page Canada’s Response to Flooding in Burma.
Canada has taken a leading role in the question of federalism in governance, providing local civil society groups and ethnic minorities with training and knowledge on this issue. Through the Democracy Envelope of the Global Peace and Security Fund (GPSF), Canada has provided over $3.7 million over the past six years (from 2008-2015) to support civil society, improve the knowledge of democracy and federalism among political actors and stakeholders.
Given positive developments in Burma’s reform process, Canada reinstated General Preferential Tariff (GPT) and Least Developed Country Tariff (LDCT) status for Burma in March 2015. The country is home to key opportunities in infrastructure, information and communication technologies, mining and in the oil and as sectors. However, Canadians and Canadian companies planning to conduct activities in Burma are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the remaining sanctions and restrictions, and may wish to consult the Ministers’ open letter on doing business in Burma. More information is also available on our web page on Canada’s economic sanctions against Burma.
Canada also works with Burma through the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Burma is a member state and Canada is a Dialogue Partner, as well as in the security-oriented ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). Burma was the ASEAN chair for 2014.
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