U.S. places Myanmar ministries, businesses on trade blacklist

A screen grab from Myanmar state television broadcast shows General Min Aung Hlaing speaking during a meeting in Naypyitaw, Myanmar.

The United States on Thursday unveiled new measures to punish Myanmar’s army for its February 1 coup, adding the country’s ministries of defense and home affairs and its top military conglomerates to a trade blacklist.

Washington has also subjected Myanmar to ‘military end use’ export control restrictions, requiring its U.S. suppliers to seek difficult-to-obtain U.S. licences to ship it certain items.

The actions come in response to the escalating crackdown and violence in Myanmar, where people took to the streets protesting against the military takeover that overthrew the country’s elected officials including de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who had won a national election in November.

Police broke up demonstrations with tear gas and gunfire in several cities across the country. The United Nations said that at least 54 people have been killed since the coup. More than 1,700 people had been arrested, including 29 journalists.

President Joe Biden last month rolled out sanctions on Myanmar, on those responsible for the ouster of the southeast Asian nation’s civilian-led government, including the defense minister and three companies in the jade and gems sector.

The United States will not allow Myanmar’s military to continue to benefit from access to many items, the Commerce Department said in a statement. “The U.S. government will continue to hold perpetrators of the coup responsible for their actions.”

Commerce added that it was reviewing further potential action.

The two companies blacklisted — Myanmar Economic Corporation and Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited — are among the top conglomerates of Myanmar’s military which controls vast swathes of Myanmar’s economy through the holding firms and their subsidiaries, with interests ranging from beer and cigarettes to telecom, tires, mining and real estate.

Advocacy group Justice for Myanmar said on Tuesday that the Ministry of Home Affairs, which commands the police, had purchased technology from American companies that were being used for surveillance of social media, among other uses.

But the measures are expected to have limited impact as the U.S. ships little to Myanmar annually and the entities are not major importers.

“The volume of trade is small so the impact won’t be big,” said William Reinsch, a former Commerce Department official. “A bigger impact would be to go after the financial assets of the military leaders of the coup.”

Reinsch said the listing “will make it harder for those entities to get technology that would strengthen the military and other goods they might want.”

The U.S. government has yet to deploy its toughest sanctioning tool against the coup leaders, the Treasury Department’s “specially designated nationals” list, which freezes assets, blocks all transactions with U.S. persons and essentially kicks blacklisted individuals out of the U.S. banking system.

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