Burma (06/08)

For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.


Union of Burma

Area: 678,500 sq. km. (slightly smaller than Texas).
Cities: Administrative capital--Nay Pyi Taw, near the township of Pyinmana (pop. 200,000); Other cities--Rangoon (pop. 5.5 million), Mandalay (pop. 1.2 million).
Terrain: Central lowlands ringed by steep, rugged highlands.
Climate: Tropical monsoon; cloudy, rainy, hot, humid summers (southwest monsoon, June to September); less cloudy, scant rainfall, mild temperatures, lower humidity during winter (December to April).

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Burmese.
Population: 57.6 million (2007 IMF estimate); no official census has been taken since 1983.
Annual population growth rate (2005 UNDP estimate): 0.8%.
Ethnic groups: Burman 68%, Shan 9%, Karen 7%, Rakhine 4%, Chinese 3%, Mon 2%, Indian 2%, other 5%.
Religions: Buddhist 89%, Christian 4% (Baptist 3%, Roman Catholic 1%), Muslim 4%, animist 1%, other 2%.
Languages: Burmese, minority ethnic languages.
Education: Literacy--adult, 89.9%; male, 93.9%; female, 86.4% (UNDP 2005 estimate).
Health: Infant mortality rate--75 deaths/1,000 live births (UNDP 2005 estimate). Life expectancy--60.8 yrs.: male, 57.6 yrs.; female 64.2 (2005 UNDP estimate).

Type: Military junta.
Constitution: January 3, 1974; suspended since September 18, 1988, when the current junta (SPDC) took power. The Burmese regime claimed that a new draft constitution was approved in a May 2008 referendum; it is not clear when the new constitution will go into effect, since parliamentary elections are not scheduled until 2010.
Branches: Executive--Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) Senior General Than Shwe is the head of state. Prime Minister Lt. Gen. Thein Sein is the head of government. Under the new constitution, the president and two vice-presidents will be selected by the parliament. Legislative--The newly approved constitution calls for a bicameral parliament. The lower house will have no more than 440 members and the upper house no more than 224. At least 25% of the legislature will be military, selected by the Chief of Defense Services. Judicial--The legal system is based on a British-era system, but with the constitution suspended, the military regime now rules by decree and there is no guarantee of a fair public trial; the judiciary is not independent. The new constitution provides for a supreme court, a constitutional tribunal, and lower courts.
Political parties: National League for Democracy (NLD) is the primary opposition party; National Unity Party (NUP) is the primary pro-regime party; the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) is a pro-regime socio-political organization; there are also many smaller ethnic parties.
Administrative subdivisions: The country is divided into seven primarily Burman ethnic divisions (tain) of Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy), Bago (Pegu), Magway, Mandalay, Yangon (Rangoon), Sagaing, and Tanintharyi (Tenassarim) and seven ethnic states (pyi nay): Chin State, Kachin State, Kayin (Karen) State, Kayah (Karenni) State, Mon State, Rakhine (Arakan) State, and Shan State.
Suffrage: Universal suffrage at 18 years of age.

GDP: $13.7 billion (2007 IMF estimate).
Annual growth rate: 5.5% (2007 IMF estimate); the regime claimed the 2005-2006 rate was 13.2%.
GDP per capita: $239 (2007 IMF estimate).
Inflation rate: 40% (2007 IMF estimate).
Natural resources: natural gas, timber, tin, antimony, zinc, copper, tungsten, lead, coal, limestone, precious stones, hydropower, marine products, and petroleum.
Agriculture: Products--rice, pulses, beans, sesame, peanuts, sugarcane, hardwood.
Industries: Types--natural gas, agricultural processing, knit and woven apparel, wood and wood products, cement, paper, cotton, cotton yarn, sugar, copper, tin, tungsten, iron, construction materials, pharmaceuticals, and fertilizer.
Recorded trade (2007 Business Information Group (BIG) statistics): Exports--$5.9 billion. Types --natural gas 45.5%, agricultural products 17.4%, teak and forest products 9.6%, precious and semi-precious stones 9.5%, and garments 4.8%. Major markets--Thailand 47.2%, India 12.5%, Hong Kong 9.7%, China 8%, and Singapore 5.8%. Imports--$2.8 billion. Types--lubricant oil and diesel 16.9%, textiles and fabrics 10%, palm oil 9%, machinery parts 8.7%, cars 6.9%, and steel, iron, and bars 6.4%. Major suppliers--Singapore 29%, China 20%, Japan 8.5%, and Thailand 8.1%.

A majority of Burma's people are ethnic Burmans. Shans, Karens, Rohingya, Arakanese, Kachins, Chins, Mons, and many other smaller indigenous ethnic groups form about 30% of the population. Indians and Chinese are the largest non-indigenous groups.

Although Burmese is the most widely spoken language (approx. 32 million speakers), other ethnic groups have retained their own identities and languages. Some of the most prominent are Shan; various Karen, Karenni and Chin languages; Arakanese; Jingpaw; Mon; Palaung; Parauk; Wa; and Yangbye. English is spoken in many areas frequented by tourists. The Indian and Chinese residents speak various languages and dialects of their homelands: Hindi, Urdu, Tamil, Bengali, Mandarin, Fujian, and Cantonese.

An estimated 89% of the population practices Buddhism. Other religions--Christian 4% (Baptist 3%, Roman Catholic 1%), Muslim 4%, and animist 1%--are less prevalent, although Christian and Muslim groups claim the regime significantly underestimates their number of adherents.

According to the UN Development Programme's 2007 Human Development Report, public health expenditure equaled only 0.3% of Burma's GDP. High infant mortality rates and short life expectancies further highlight poor health and living conditions. The HIV/AIDS epidemic poses a serious threat to the Burmese population, as do tuberculosis and malaria. In 2007, the UNDP's Human Development Index, which measures achievements in terms of life expectancy, educational attainment, and adjusted real income, ranked Burma 132 out of 177 countries.

There are numerous documented human rights violations, and internal displacement of ethnic minorities is prevalent. Over a million Burmese, many of them ethnic minorities, have fled for economic and political reasons to Bangladesh, India, China, Malaysia, and Thailand to seek work and asylum. More than 150,000 Burmese live in nine refugee camps in Thailand and roughly 30,000 live in two camps in Bangladesh. Roughly 30,000 Burmese (mostly Chin and Rohingya) have fled to Malaysia.

Burma was unified by Burman dynasties three times during the past millennium. The first such unification came with the rise of the Bagan (Pagan) Dynasty in 1044 AD, which is considered the "Golden Age" in Burmese history. During this period, Theravada Buddhism first made its appearance in Burma, and the Bagan kings built a massive city with thousands of pagodas and monasteries along the Irrawaddy River. The Bagan Dynasty lasted until 1287 when Mongol invaders destroyed the city. Ethnic Shan rulers, who established a political center at Ava (near Mandalay), filled the ensuing political vacuum for a short time.

In the 15th century, the Taungoo Dynasty succeeded again in unifying under Burman rule a large, multi-ethnic kingdom. This dynasty, which lasted from 1486 until 1752, left little cultural legacy, but expanded the kingdom through conquest of the Shans. Internal power struggles, and the cost of protracted warfare, led to the eventual decline of the Taungoo Dynasty.

The final Burman royal dynasty, the Konbaung, was established in 1752 under the rule of King Alaungpaya. Like the Taungoo Kings, the Konbaung rulers focused on warfare and conquest. Wars were fought with the ethnic Mons and Arakanese, and with the Siamese. The Burmese sacked the Siamese capital of Ayuthaya in 1767. This period also saw four invasions by the Chinese and three devastating wars with the British.

The British began their conquest of Burma in 1824, expanding their holdings after each of the three wars. At the end of the third war in 1885, the British gained complete control of Burma, annexing it to India. Under British control, which lasted until 1948, Burma underwent enormous change. The British established strong administrative institutions and reorganized the economy from subsistence farming to a large-scale export economy. By 1939, Burma had become the world's leading exporter of rice.

Burmese nationalists, led by General Aung San and 29 other "Comrades," joined the Japanese forces in driving out the British at the outbreak of World War II. However, the Burmese Army switched sides in mid-1945 and aided U.S. and British forces in their drive to Rangoon. After the war, the Burmese, with General Aung San at the helm, demanded complete political and economic independence from Britain. The British Government acceded to these demands. A constitution was completed in 1947 and independence granted in January 1948. General Aung San was assassinated with most of his cabinet before the constitution went into effect.

During the constitutional period from 1948 to 1962, Burma suffered widespread conflict and internal struggle. Constitutional disputes and persistent division among political and ethnic groups contributed to the democratic government's weak hold on power. In 1958, Prime Minister U Nu invited the military to rule temporarily to restore political order. The military stepped down after 18 months; however, in 1962 General Ne Win led a military coup, abolishing the constitution and establishing a xenophobic military government with socialist economic policies. These policies had devastating effects on the country's economy and business climate.

In March 1988, student-led disturbances broke out in Rangoon in response to the worsening economic situation and evolved into a call for regime change. Despite repeated violent crackdowns by the military and police, the demonstrations increased in size as many in the general public joined the students. During mass demonstrations on August 8, 1988, military forces killed more than 1,000 demonstrators. At a rally following this massacre Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of General Aung San, made her first political speech and assumed the role of opposition leader.

In September 1988, the military deposed Ne Win's Burmese Socialist Program Party (BSPP), suspended the constitution, and established a new ruling junta called the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). In an effort to "restore order," the SLORC sent the army into the streets to suppress the ongoing public demonstrations. An estimated additional 3,000 were killed, and more than 10,000 students fled into the hills and border areas.

The SLORC ruled by martial law until national parliamentary elections were held in May 1990. The results were an overwhelming victory for Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party, which won 392 of the 485 seats, even though she was under house arrest. However, the SLORC refused to honor the results and call the parliament into session, and instead imprisoned many political activists.

The ruling junta changed its name to the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) in 1997, but did not change its policy of autocratic control and repression of the democratic opposition. It continued to subject Aung San Suu Kyi to varying forms of detention and other restrictions on her movement, which it periodically lifted only to reinstate later. In 2000, the SPDC began talks with the political opposition led by Aung San Suu Kyi. These talks were followed by the release of political prisoners and some increase in political freedoms for the NLD. In May 2002, Aung San Suu Kyi was allowed to leave her home, and subsequently traveled widely throughout the country, where she was greeted by large crowds. On May 30, 2003, Aung San Suu Kyi and a convoy of her supporters were attacked by a group of regime-affiliated thugs. Many members of the convoy were killed or injured, and others disappeared. Aung San Suu Kyi and other members of her party were detained, and the military government forcibly closed the offices of the NLD. Today, only the NLD headquarters in Rangoon is open, all the party's other offices remain closed, and Aung San Suu Kyi and NLD Vice Chairman U Tin Oo remain under house arrest.

In October 2004, hard-line members of the senior leadership consolidated their power by ousting Prime Minister Khin Nyunt and removing him and his allies from control of the government and military intelligence apparatus. In late November 2004, the junta announced it would release approximately 9,000 prisoners it claimed had been improperly jailed by Khin Nyunt's National Intelligence Bureau. Approximately 86 of those released had been imprisoned for their political beliefs. Those released since November 2004 include Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi, both key figures in the 1988 demonstrations. On July 6, 2005, authorities released 323 additional political prisoners and on January 3, 2007, the authorities released over 2,800 prisoners, of whom over 40 were political prisoners. In August 2007 the regime re-arrested Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi, and subsequently arrested thousands of political activists and young people after demonstrations in September 2007. Over 2,100 political activists are held in prisons around the country.

Following a sharp increase in fuel prices on August 15, 2007, pro-democracy groups began a series of peaceful marches and demonstrations to protest the deteriorating economic situation in Burma. The regime responded by arbitrarily detaining over 150 pro-democracy activists between August 15 and September 11. On August 28, as popular dissatisfaction spread, Buddhist monks began leading peaceful marches. On September 5, security forces violently broke up demonstrations by monks resulting in injuries and triggering calls for a nationwide response and a government apology. Beginning on September 18, monks resumed their peaceful protests in several cities throughout the country. These marches grew quickly to include ordinary citizens, culminating in a gathering of approximately 10,000 protestors in Rangoon on September 24. On September 25, the regime tried to stop the protests by imposing a curfew and banning public gatherings. On September 26 and 27, the regime renewed its violent crackdown, shooting, beating, and arbitrarily detaining thousands of monks, pro-democracy activists, and onlookers. Underestimating the number of deaths during the crackdown, the regime confirmed the deaths of only 10 protestors. Some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) estimated the number of casualties to be much higher, and in his December 7, 2007 report to the UN General Assembly, Special Rapporteur Paulo Sergio Pinheiro stated that there were over 30 fatalities in Rangoon associated with the September 2007 protests. In retribution for leading protest marches, monks were beaten and arrested, many monks were disrobed, and several monasteries were raided, ransacked, and closed. In addition to the more than 1,100 political prisoners whose arrests predate the September 2007 crackdown, another thousand or more were detained due to their participation in the recent protests. Additional people continued to be arrested through the end of May 2008.

In February 2008 the government announced that it had completed its draft of a new constitution and it would hold a referendum in May to be followed by multi-party elections in 2010. While the referendum law provided for a secret ballot, free debate was not permitted and activities considered "interfering with the referendum" carried a three-year prison sentence. Despite the major humanitarian disaster precipitated by Cyclone Nargis, which struck Burma May 2-3, the regime insisted on carrying out the referendum, and voting took place on May 10 in most of the country and on May 24 in areas affected by the cyclone. The referendum was rife with irregularities; voters arriving at polling stations were advised that their ballots had already been cast; officials distributed ballots that had previously been completed; vote counts in most areas were conducted in secret; and voters were intimidated by officials to vote in support of the constitution. On May 27, the government announced that 92.5% of voters approved the constitution, with a 98% voter turnout.

The Union of Burma is ruled by a military junta that currently calls itself the "State Peace and Development Council" (SPDC). Although the SPDC changed the name of the country to "Myanmar," the democratically elected but never convened parliament of 1990 does not recognize the name change, and the democratic opposition continues to use the name "Burma." Out of support for the democratically elected leaders, the U.S. Government likewise uses "Burma."

Burma consists of 14 states and divisions. Administrative control is exercised from the central government through a system of subordinate executive bodies and regional military commanders. Power is centered on the SPDC, which maintains strict authoritarian rule over the people of Burma. The Prime Minister is appointed directly by the SPDC. Control is maintained through intimidation, the strict censoring of information, repression of individual rights, and suppression of ethnic minority groups.

The military regime has a contentious relationship with Burma's ethnic groups, many of which have fought for greater autonomy or secession for their regions since the country's independence. In 1948, only Rangoon itself was under the control of national government authorities. Subsequent military campaigns brought more and more of the nation under central government control. Since 1989, the regime has signed a series of cease-fire agreements with insurgent groups, leaving only a handful still in active opposition.

The SPDC continues its harsh rule and systematic human rights abuses, and insists that any future political transition be negotiated on its terms. Although the National League for Democracy (NLD) overwhelmingly won the last national elections held in 1990, the ruling junta has never recognized its victory. The junta proclaimed a seven-step roadmap to democracy and convened a national convention on January 9, 1993 to draft a new constitution. The national convention collapsed in 1996 after the NLD withdrew its participation. The junta reconvened the convention in May 2004 without the participation of the NLD and other pro-democracy ethnic groups. The national convention convened intermittently and in September 2007, the regime concluded the process of "drafting" principles for the new constitution. Delegates to the convention were not allowed to debate or openly discuss the principles. In October 2007, the SPDC appointed 54 persons to sit on the constitution drafting committee, but included no members from the NLD or the pro-democracy opposition. The government declared the completion of the constitution drafting committee's work on February 5, 2008 and announced that it would hold a national referendum on the constitution in May 2008, with multi-party elections planned for 2010. The government carried out the referendum on May 10 and May 24 in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation and in the midst of the humanitarian disaster caused by Cyclone Nargis, claiming a 92.5% approval rate and 98% voter turnout. The referendum process and outcome were not credible. Although the Burmese regime claimed that its draft constitution was approved in the referendum, it is not clear exactly when the new constitution will go into effect as parliamentary elections are not scheduled until 2010. Even under the new constitution, the regime will maintain strict control of the government, giving the military the power to step in and control the government whenever it deems necessary.

In November 2005, the ruling regime unexpectedly relocated the capital city from Rangoon to Nay Pyi Taw, further isolating the government from the public. Nay Pyi Taw is a sparsely populated district located approximately midway between Rangoon and Mandalay. Most government workers and ministries moved to Nay Pyi Taw over the following six months, but construction and development of the new administrative capital remains incomplete. Foreign diplomatic missions are still located in Rangoon.

Cyclone Nargis hit the Irrawaddy delta region and Rangoon on the evening of May 2 and morning of May 3, 2008. The storm devastated a huge swath of the country, wiping out entire villages and leaving an estimated 130,000 Burmese dead or missing. While the international community offered aid in the massive humanitarian relief effort, the regime was slow to permit outside assistance.

Principal Government Officials
Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council--Senior General Than Shwe
Prime Minister--Lt. Gen. Thein Sein
Minister of Foreign Affairs--U Nyan Win
Chargé d' Affaires, Burmese Embassy in the United States--U Myint Lwin
Ambassador to the United Nations--U Kyaw Tint Swe

Burma maintains an embassy to the United States at 2300 S Street NW, Washington, DC 20008, tel.: (202) 332-3344; fax: (202) 332-4351.

Burma is a resource-rich country with a strong agricultural base. It also has vast timber, natural gas, and fishery reserves and is a leading source of gems and jade. Tourist potential remains undeveloped because of weak infrastructure and Burma's international image, which has been damaged by the junta's human rights abuses and oppression of the democratic opposition. Due to Burma's poor human rights record, the U.S. imposed a range of trade sanctions, including bans on the importation of Burmese products into the U.S. and the export of financial services from the U.S. to Burma. In response to the September 2007 crackdown, President Bush announced on September 25, 2007 that the United States would tighten existing economic sanctions on the regime leaders and their supporters. On October 19, 2007, President Bush expanded sanctions to include individuals responsible for human rights abuses and public corruption, as well as individuals and entities who provided material or financial support to designated individuals or the Burmese military government. Other names were added to the targeted sanctions list in November 2007 and February and March 2008. Australia, Canada, and the EU also have imposed additional economic sanctions on the Burmese regime in response to the crackdown.

Despite Burma's growing GDP due to increasing oil and gas revenues, the regime's mismanagement of the economy has created a downward economic spiral for the people of Burma. The state remains heavily involved in most parts of the economy, infrastructure has deteriorated, and no rule of law exists. The majority of Burmese citizens subsist on an average annual income of less than $200 per capita. Inflation, caused primarily by public sector deficit spending and the eroding value of the local currency (the kyat), has reduced living standards. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimated that inflation was running at 40% in March 2007, in contrast with official estimates of 10%.

The military's commercial arms play a major role in the economy. The limited moves to a market economy have been accompanied by a significant rise in crony capitalism. A handful of companies loyal to the regime has benefited from policies that promote monopoly and privilege. State-controlled activity predominates in energy, heavy industry, and the rice trade. Agriculture, light industry, trade, and transport dominate the private sector.

Burma remains a primarily agricultural economy with 50% of GDP derived from agriculture, livestock and fisheries, and forestry. Cyclone Nargis, which devastated Rangoon and Irrawaddy Divisions, severely damaged approximately 20% of Burma's rice producing lands. Manufacturing/industry constitutes only 15% of recorded economic activity, and state industries continue to play a large role in that sector. Trade and services constitute 35% of GDP.

Foreign investment has declined precipitously since 1999 due to the increasingly unfriendly business environment and political pressure from Western consumers and shareholders. The government conserves foreign exchange by limiting imports and promoting exports. Published estimates of Burma's foreign trade (particularly on the import side) are greatly understated because of the large volume of off-book, black-market, illicit, and unrecorded border trade.

In the near term, growth will continue to be constrained by government mismanagement and minimal investment. A number of other countries, including member states of the European Union, Canada, and Australia have joined the United States in applying some form of sanctions against the regime.

Government economic statistics are unavailable and unreliable. According to official figures, GDP growth has been over 10% annually since FY 1999-2000. However, the rate is likely much smaller; the IMF estimated that the growth rate in 2007 was 5.5% and predicted 2008 growth to be between 4%-5%. Burma's limited economic growth results largely from its natural gas exports, which account for over half of Burma's export receipts and foreign direct investment. Natural gas exports will increase significantly once production begins from the offshore Shwe and Shwephyu Fields, estimated to hold 5.7-10 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. In 2007-2008, the oil and gas sector accounted for $3.42 billion in foreign direct investment. Corporations based in China, India, South Korea, Thailand, and Malaysia have interests in the exploration and development of several offshore and onshore blocks.

Burma remains the world's second-largest producer of illicit opium--although it amounts to only 12% of the world's total. Annual production of opium is now estimated to be less than 15% of mid-1990 peak levels. Burma is also a primary source of amphetamine-type stimulants in Asia. Although the Burmese Government has expanded its counternarcotics measures in recent years, production and trafficking of narcotics and failure to adequately prosecute those involved remains a major problem in Burma.

During the Cold War, Burmese foreign policy was based on principles of neutrality, often tending toward xenophobia. Since 1988, however, Burma has expanded its regional ties. It now is a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), and several other regional organizations and initiatives. Burma's lack of progress on human rights and democracy has frayed some ties, and in July 2005, Burma passed up its scheduled 2006 ASEAN chairmanship.

Although Burmese-Thai relations are generally cooperative, they have been tainted by a long history of border conflicts and sporadic hostilities over narcotics trafficking and insurgents operating along the Burmese-Thai border. Nonetheless, official and unofficial economic ties remain strong. In addition to the approximately 150,000 Burmese refugees it hosts, the Thai Government issues temporary work permits to another one million Burmese who live outside the refugee camps in Thailand. Despite their often-contentious history, Burma and China have grown much closer in recent years. China quickly is becoming Burma's most important partner, offering debt relief, economic development grants, and soft loans used for the construction of infrastructure and light industry. China also is purportedly Burma's major supplier of arms and munitions. Burma's commercial and military ties with India are also growing steadily as well.

The UN has made several efforts to address international concerns over human rights in Burma. The UN Secretary General's Special Envoy to Burma, Tan Sri Razali Ismail, resigned his position in December 2005 due to the regime's lack of cooperation. Subsequently, Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon named former UN Undersecretary General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari as his Special Advisor for Burma. Special Advisor Gambari has made three trips to Burma since the September 2007 crackdown. In January 2007, the United States and the U.K. sponsored a UN Security Council resolution calling on Burma to cooperate with the UN Secretary General's good offices mission, open dialogue with the political opposition, stop its military offensive in Karen State, and allow humanitarian organizations greater access to needy populations. The resolution received nine votes in favor, three abstentions, and three "no" votes, but was not approved because of vetoes from Russia and China. The UN Security Council adopted by consensus a Presidential Statement on October 11, 2007 deploring the September 2007 crackdown and calling for the creation of the necessary conditions for a genuine dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi and all concerned parties and ethnic groups in order to achieve an inclusive national reconciliation. The UN Security Council issued a press statement on the crackdown on November 14, 2007. In November 2007, UN Commission on Human Rights Special Rapporteur Paulo Sergio Pinheiro was allowed to visit the country for the first time since 2003. His report detailing the Burmese authorities' September crackdown on demonstrations by monks and democracy activists and the severe reprisals that continued was released on December 11, 2007. Gambari visited Burma in March 2008. On May 2, the Security Council issued a second Presidential Statement calling for the Burmese regime to conduct the referendum on its draft constitution in a free and fair manner. In the wake of Cyclone Nargis, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon visited Burma in May 2008 and called on the regime to grant greater access for international aid to cyclone-affected areas of the country.

Burma is involved in the Asian Development Bank's (ADB) Program of Economic Cooperation in the Greater Mekong Sub-region. As such, it participates in regional meetings and workshops supported by the ADB. Burma joined ASEAN in 1997, and has participated in that regional forum, even hosting a number of seminars, conferences, and ministerial meetings. As one of ASEAN's least developed members, Burma also has an extra five years (until 2008) to comply with most of ASEAN Free Trade Agreement's liberalization requirements. Burma also is a member of the World Trade Organization.

Most Western foreign aid diminished in the wake of the regime's suppression of the democracy movement in 1988. The UN Development Programme's 2007 Human Development Report indicates that official development assistance totaled $144.7 million in 2006, roughly $2 per capita (compared with $47 per person in Laos and $35 per person in Cambodia). Burma receives grants of technical assistance (mostly from Asia), limited humanitarian aid and debt relief from Japan and China, and concessional loans from China and India.

Burma became a member of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank in 1952, the International Financial Corporation (IFC) in 1956, the International Development Association (IDA) in 1962, and the ADB in 1973. Since July 1987, the World Bank has not made any loans to Burma. Since 1998 Burma has been in non-accrual status with the Bank. The IMF performs its mandated annual Article IV consultations, but there are no IMF assistance programs. The ADB has not extended loans to Burma since 1986. Bilateral technical assistance ended in 1988. Burma has not serviced its ADB loans since January 1998. Burma's total foreign debt now stands at over $7 billion.

The political relationship between the United States and Burma worsened after the 1988 military coup and violent suppression of pro-democracy demonstrations. Subsequent repression, including the brutal crackdown on peaceful protestors in September 2007, further strained the relationship.

The United States has imposed broad sanctions against Burma under several different legislative and policy vehicles. The Burma Freedom and Democracy Act (BFDA), passed by Congress and signed by the President in 2003, includes a ban on all imports from Burma, a ban on the export of financial services to Burma, a freeze on the assets of certain Burmese financial institutions, and extended visa restrictions on Burmese officials. Congress has renewed the BFDA annually, most recently in July 2007. Since September 27, 2007, the U.S. Department of Treasury designated 25 senior Burmese Government officials as subject to an asset block under Executive Order 13310. On October 19, 2007, President Bush announced a new Executive Order (E.O. 13348) which expands the authority to block assets to individuals who are responsible for human rights abuses and public corruption, as well as those who provide material and financial support to the regime. Other names were added to the targeted sanctions list in November 2007 and February and March 2008. On April 30, the President issued Executive Order 13464, blocking all property and interests in property of designated individuals and entities determined to be owned or controlled by the Government of Burma or an official of the Government of Burma.

In addition, since May 1997, the U.S. Government has prohibited new investment by U.S. persons or entities. A number of U.S. companies exited the Burma market even prior to the imposition of sanctions due to a worsening business climate and mounting criticism from human rights groups, consumers, and shareholders. The United States has also imposed countermeasures on Burma due to its inadequate measures to eliminate money laundering.

Due to its particularly severe violations of religious freedom, the United States has designated Burma a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act. Burma is also designated a Tier 3 Country in the Trafficking in Persons Report for its use of forced labor, and is subject to additional sanctions as a result.

The United States downgraded its level of representation in Burma from Ambassador to Chargé d'Affaires after the government's crackdown on the democratic opposition in 1988 and its failure to honor the results of the 1990 parliamentary election.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Charge d'Affaires--Shari Villarosa
Deputy Chief of Mission--Karl Stoltz
Political/Economic Affairs Officer--Leslie Hayden
Public Affairs Officer--Richard Mei
Consul--Lee McManis
Management Officer--Robert Bare

The U.S. Embassy in Burma is located at 110 University Ave., Kamayut Township, Rangoon;; mailing address: Box B, APO AP 96546, tel: [95] (1) 536-509/535-756/538-038/650-006; fax: [95] (1) 650306.