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The US, Canada and the UK Slap Coordinated Sanctions on Burma

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The US government announced on May 17 that it’s bringing a fresh round of sanctions against Burma over alleged human rights violations following the country’s military coup earlier this year. Specifically, these sanctions target 16 individuals that are closely linked to Burma’s military regime and the State Administrative Council, which is the official name of Burma’s military-led government.

Burma has been rocked by unrest since February 1, when the military seized power from State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi’s democratically elected government, citing election irregularities and fraud. Since then, protests by pro-democracy supporters across the country have been met with violence and deadly force. Some estimates say that over 800 people have been killed so far. Further, the military has attempted to shut down access to the internet and social media channels for hours at a time.

Many in the international community have been swift to condemn the coup and violence.

Since February, the Biden administration has responded with several rounds of sanctions against those individuals and entities linked to the coup and subsequent events. They have not acted alone either: the United Kingdom and Canada have issued their own sanctions to apply pressure to the regime, and in March, the EU created a new sanctions program to designate individuals and entities it deemed to be either connected to the coup or perpetuating the violence. 

Further, this latest round of sanctions on May 17 was imposed in coordination with Canada and the UK. The two countries announced sanctions on the same day, although the specific individuals and entities differ slightly. Both the UK and Canada, for example, imposed sanctions on the Myanmar Gems Enterprise in an attempt to cut off a major funding source for the military. The state-owned company, which is responsible for the mining and sale of jade and other gemstones, had already been designated by the US in April.

The US, on the other hand, focused this round of sanctions on members of the SAC and civilian officials who support the military government. These include the governor of the central bank and the chairman of the Union Election Commission. Three adult children of previously designated military officials were also sanctioned. They mark the first time the US has designated civilian individuals deemed responsible for perpetuating the situation in Burma.

Whether these sanctions have a significant impact on the military government’s grip is unknown. But exports to Burma from eight major trading partners — including the US and Canada — plummeted in February in the immediate aftermath of the coup, falling nearly 40% collectively. US exports alone fell 60%. Given the imposition of additional sanctions in subsequent months, this contraction will likely be more severe in the coming months.

Further, financial institutions would do well to note the coordinated response — and pay careful attention to where each sanctions regime overlaps and diverges. With the situation in Burma fluid and far from over, companies will need to continue to closely monitor for changes. In the meantime, they may be able to look to each regime for clues as to which businesses or entities will be added to the others in the coming months.

Originally published May 20, 2021, updated November 17, 2021

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