U.S. Relations With Burma

Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
Fact Sheet
January 13, 2017

More information about Burma is available on the Burma Page and from other Department of State publications and other sources listed at the end of this fact sheet.


The United States supports a peaceful, prosperous, and democratic Burma that respects the human rights of all its people. Elections in November 2010 led to a peaceful transition from sixty years of military rule to a quasi-civilian government headed by former President Thein Sein. Under former President Thein Sein, the previous Government of Burma initiated a series of political and economic reforms which resulted in a substantial opening of the long-isolated country. These reforms include the release of many political prisoners and child soldiers, the signing of a cease-fire agreement with eight major non-state ethnic groups, greater enjoyment of freedom of expression, including by the press, and parliamentary by-elections in 2012 in which pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), won 43 of the 45 contested seats. In historic elections in November 2015, the NLD won a majority of the total seats in the national parliament and in most state and regional parliaments. Despite some structural problems, including the reservation of 25 percent of parliamentary seats for the military; the disfranchisement of groups of people who voted in previous elections, including the Rohingya; and the disqualification of candidates based on arbitrary application of citizenship and residency requirements, this election represented an incredible step forward in Burma’s democratic transition. The new national parliament sat February 1, 2016, and National League for Democracy member Htin Kyaw was inaugurated as president on March 30, 2016. President Htin Kyaw’s inauguration, and the formation of a democratically elected, civilian-led government were momentous steps for Burma’s democratic transition. In two of its first major initiatives, the new government released two waves of political prisoners, including five well-known journalists and 69 student activists held on politically motivated charges, though others remain in jail. These actions demonstrated the new government’s ability to realize its commitment to human rights issues.

The United States has employed a calibrated engagement strategy to recognize the positive steps undertaken to date and to incentivize further reform. The guiding principles of this approach have been to support Burma’s political and economic reforms; promote national reconciliation; build government transparency, and accountability and institutions; empower local communities and civil society; promote responsible international engagement; and strengthen respect for and protection of human rights and religious freedom.

As part of our calibrated approach to support further reform, the United States has restored full diplomatic relations, re-established a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Mission in country, supported new grant and lending operations and technical assistance by international financial institutions, and eased economic and investment sanctions against Burma. Senior U.S. government officials have traveled to the country to meet with the Government of Burma, political parties, civil society, human rights activists, religious and ethnic leaders, and youth, demonstrating the United States’ continuing support to Burma in its democratic reform efforts.

While the country has made significant progress, major institutional and political challenges remain, including completing the national reconciliation process with various ethnic groups, strengthening respect for and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, releasing remaining political prisoners, and improving the conditions in Rakhine State, particularly those facing members of the Rohingya population. Additionally, more progress needs to be made to reduce the military’s role in politics, move from cease-fires to political dialogue, and to improve rule of law and government accountability. The United States continues to emphasize to the Government of Burma the importance of promoting values of tolerance, diversity, and peaceful co-existence, and for the Burmese military to completely end military ties with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The military government changed the country name to "Myanmar" in 1989.

U.S. Assistance to Burma

The United States has a long-standing commitment to improving the lives of the people of Burma. After the USAID Mission was closed in 1989, the United States continued to deliver emergency humanitarian assistance along the Thailand-Burma border, including through NGO partners for Burmese refugees and asylum seekers in the refugee camps on the border. The United States resumed targeted health programs in 1998. In 2008, U.S. assistance efforts scaled up in response to the devastation caused by Cyclone Nargis. Burma's ongoing reforms led to the re-establishment of the USAID Mission in 2012.

Carefully integrated with U.S. diplomatic efforts, U.S. development assistance focuses on deepening and sustaining key political and economic reforms, ensuring that the democratic transition benefits everyday people, and mitigating division and conflict. Since 2012, the United States has provided over $500 million to support Burma’s transition, advance the peace process, and improve the lives of millions, including by assisting communities affected by violence and combatting hate speech and communal violence. More than 1.1 million people have improved food security, and over 300,000 impoverished farming families have increased their agricultural productivity with better access to technology, markets and new investments. New entrepreneurs are benefiting from the economic reform process, which has increased access to information and communications technology. Over 20 public-private partnerships with leading U.S. corporations, information and communications technology companies, and foundations work to develop small and medium enterprises, improve healthcare, and bring new technologies to Burma. In preparation for the historic elections in 2015, the United States trained more than 7,300 political party members and partnered with over 300 civil society organizations on voter education and observation, strengthening public participation in Burma’s overall reform process.

In FY 2015, the United States provided more than $50 million to address humanitarian needs in Burma, including among internally displaced persons throughout the country and vulnerable Burmese refugees and asylum seekers in the region. In response to the maritime migrant crisis in May and June 2015, the United States provided more than $6 million towards the emergency appeals from the International Organization for Migration and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and helped provide temporary shelter, emergency relief items, and health, nutrition, and psychosocial assistance. During the heavy seasonal rainfall in July and August 2015 and Tropical Cyclone Komen, which caused significant flooding and landslides throughout the country and affected more than 1.6 million people, the United States provided more than $5 million in humanitarian assistance to all affected communities, working with local officials and international relief partners to distribute essential supplies and services to the emergency shelters in the worst-affected areas and assist in early recovery efforts. The United States continues to provide emergency assistance to vulnerable communities along the Thailand-Burma border and in Rakhine, Kachin, and Shan States.

In addition to USAID, many other U.S. agencies provide assistance and training in Burma, including the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of the Treasury, and U.S. Trade and Development Agency.

Bilateral Economic Relations

In recognition of Burma's political and economic reform progress, the United States has taken concrete steps to accelerate broad-based economic growth and support the political reform process. The United States played an instrumental role in supporting renewed engagement from multilateral development banks, which re-started operations in 2013. Over the past three years, U.S. development partners at the World Bank and Asian Development Bank have committed more than $3.8 billion to critical needs in Burma’s infrastructure and human services. In July 2012, the United States issued general licenses that, subject to certain limitations, authorize the exportation of U.S. financial services to Burma and authorize new U.S. investment in Burma, thus permitting the first new U.S. investment in Burma in nearly 15 years. In September 2012, the United States removed President Thein Sein and Speaker Shwe Mann from the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list. In October 2012, the United States took action under H.R. 6431 to allow the U.S. Executive Directors at international financial institutions (IFIs) to vote in favor of the provision of assistance for Burma by the IFI, paving the way for new grant and lending operations. In November 2012, the United States issued a waiver and general license to ease the ban on the importation of products of Burma into the United States, with the exception of jadeite and rubies mined or extracted from Burma and articles of jewelry containing them, for the first time in almost a decade. The July 28, 2013 expiration of the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act’s (BFDA) ban on imports from Burma removed the underlying statutory basis for the general import ban. Shortly thereafter, the President issued Executive Order 13651 to remove the general import ban from Executive Order 13310 and to maintain the previously described restrictions associated with jadeite and rubies. In 2013, the United States issued a general license to authorize U.S. persons to conduct most transactions – including opening and maintaining financial accounts and conducting a range of other financial services – with four of Burma’s major financial institutions: Asia Green Development Bank, Ayeyarwady Bank, Myanmar Economic Bank, and Myanmar Investment and Commercial Bank. In December 2015, the United States issued a six-month general license to authorize most transactions ordinarily incident to the export of goods, technology, and non-financial services to or from Burma provided that the exportation is not to, from, or on behalf of SDNs or otherwise blocked persons.

The U.S. government encourages responsible investment in Burma as part of an overall strategy to encourage economic growth and improve the standard of living for the people of Burma. The United States plays a leading role by enhancing human capacity and promoting global standards throughout Southeast Asia due to the quality of private investment. U.S. companies will continue to play a critical role in supporting broad-based, sustainable development in Burma and are helping the country progress toward a more open, inclusive, and democratic society.

Burma's Membership in International Organizations

Burma became a member of the United Nations in 1948 following independence from the United Kingdom, and a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 1997. Burma was the chair of ASEAN for 2014, its first chairmanship in 17 years as an ASEAN member state.

Burma and the United States belong to a number of the same international organizations, including the UN, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and World Trade Organization.

Bilateral Representation

The U.S. Ambassador to Burma is Scot Marciel; other principal embassy officials are listed in the Department's Key Officers List.

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

More information about Burma is available from the Department of State and other sources, some of which are listed here:

Department of State Burma Country Page
Doing Business in Burma page
Department of State Key Officers List
CIA World Factbook Burma Page
USAID Burma Page
Human Rights Reports
International Religious Freedom Reports
Trafficking in Persons Reports
Narcotics Control Reports
Office of Foreign Assets Control Sanctions Page