September 6, 2004

EU puts trade before human rights

France & Germany dictate British foreign policy on Burma

The Burma Campaign UK today condemned the European Union for agreeing to admit Burma into the Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM). The EU has agreed to Burma’s participation as long as it is below head of state level. ASEM holds biannual summits to foster good relations between Asia and the European Union.

Although ASEM is just a talking shop, the EU‚s decision to allow Burma to join at ministerial level has important symbolic significance. It weakens an already feeble EU common policy on Burma.

“At the ASEM summit in November John Prescott, Chirac and Schroder will be dining with dictators,” said John Jackson, Director of the Burma Campaign UK. “This sends a clear message that the EU puts trade before human rights.”

France and Germany led countries calling for a compromise to allow Burma into ASEM as long as Burma is represented below head of state level . “They should be ashamed of themselves,” said John Jackson. “Their foreign policy is obviously led by the interests of their corporations, not by ethical considerations. They didn’t want concerns over Burma to interfere with business opportunities in China and the rest of Asia.” Both countries also have trade interests in Burma. France’s Total Oil is the largest European investor in Burma. Germany is Europe’s largest exporter to Burma.

Activists paid tribute to the British government for fighting hard within the EU to stop Burma’s admittance to ASEM. “Britain did what it could within the EU, and they deserve credit,” said John Jackson. “We are disappointed that they did not hold firm and use their veto. This does have serious implications for the future of British policy on Burma. The EU is moving closer to the regime, which is not what the British government wants. The question now is whether Britain
will continue to allow Germany and France to dictate its Burma policy, or whether it will have the courage to act unilaterally.”

The Burma Campaign UK scorned possible new sanctions on Burma proposed by the EU. “This is a fig leaf the size of a pinhead, it doesn’t hide their shame,” said John Jackson. “They might as well not bother.”

There is a myth that sanctions have been tried and have failed. In fact the EU has no effective economic sanctions against Burma. It has a visa ban that has had no impact, and an asset freeze that has not been fully implemented and has resulted in less than £4,000 being frozen across the whole of Europe. It also has an arms embargo. The US is the only country with effective sanctions against Burma. It has banned new investment since 1997 and banned all imports and financial transactions last year.

Europe’s decision on admitting Burma into ASEM follows strong pressure from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and is an embarrassing climbdown for Europe. Earlier this year the EU laid down three key conditions before it would admit Burma into ASEM. They were that Aung San Suu Kyi and other National League for Democracy leaders must be released, the NLD be allowed to participate  freely in the National Convention, and that National Convention procedures were modified and a definite timeframe for its completion be established. None of these conditions have been met.

The decision also defies a European Parliament resolution of March 2004, which demanded that Burma not be admitted to ASEM until irreversible change towards democracy takes place. Earlier this week the Development Committee of the European Parliament also issued a statement calling on the EU to block Burma’s membership.

British MPs will also be angered by the move. Ninety MPs backed an Early Day Motion calling on the British government to block Burma’s membership of ASEM, including 60 Labour backbenchers.

Burma’s government in exile, the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, had also called on the EU to reject Burma’s membership of ASEM.

“When Asean admitted Burma as a member they argued engagement was the way to influence the regime, but there has not been a single democratic reform in Burma since they joined in 1997,” said John Jackson. “ASEM will be no different. Sitting down with the generals for a cosy chat does not work. Economic sanctions are what they fear most. The sooner the EU uses its economic muscle the sooner we’ll see reform in Burma.”

For more information contact Mark Farmaner, Media Officer, on 020 7324 4713.

  • In the past five years the value of German exports to Burma has been 162.1 million dollars. (Asia Development Bank)
  • Deutsche Post is part-owned by the German government, its DHL subsidiary is in a joint venture with the regime. All competing parcel delivery companies were expelled by the regime in order to maximise revenues from the joint venture.
  •  Since Labour came to power imports from Burma into the UK have more than tripled, rising from 17.3million pounds in 1998 to 62.2million pounds in 2003.
  • According to recent figures from the regime, last year the value of Burmese exports to the UK (64.7 million dollars) were more than to neighbouring China (62.6 million dollars).
  • Britain ranks as the second largest investor in Burma in the past decade, with $1.4 billion of approved investment. This compares to just $64 million by neighbouring China, which is ranked 15th.EU STATEMENT FOLLOWS
    Minister Bernard Bot presents outcome of discussions on Burma [ 03-09-2004 | Press releases (CFSP) | General Affairs and External Relations]

    “The EU attaches great importance to its relations with Asia and the ASEM process, but it is also committed to democratic change in Burma as well as to ongoing humanitarian assistance to the people of Burma”, said minister Bernard Bot today after a discussion of EU ministers about the issue of ASEM enlargement, in the presence of the Presidency’s special envoy Van den Broek.

    Following is the outcome of the discussions as presented by Minister Bot during a press conference.

    During his mission to Asia Van den Broek conveyed the above message. He learned that many of the Asian partners share the concerns that EU has on Burma, but – like the EU- attach importance to the ASEM summit and a discussion on its enlargement.

    The situation in Burma has not improved significantly and continues to give rise to grave concern. In particular the progress hoped for at the time of the Tullamore Gymnich has not happened: Daw Aung San Suu Kyi remains under house arrest, the National League for Democracy has faced continued harassment and the National Convention has not allowed genuine open debate.

    If the Burmese Government has not fulfilled the three conditions of the Tullamore Gymnich by 8 October, when the ASEM Summit starts, the European Union will act as follows:
    1) the European Union will maintain the measures under its Common Position against the military regime in Burma and those who benefit from it;
    2) The European Union will tighten the existing measures against the regime and increase the support to the Burmese people, and requests the Commission to prepare a revised Common Position, which in addition to the existing measures includes:
    An expansion of the visa ban list to include serving members of the military of the rank of Brigadier-General and above and members of their families, and implementing it by having visa applicants to sign a separate statement thatthey do not belong to the above-mentioned group.
    Prohibiting EU registered companies or organisations from making any finance available to named Burmese State-owned enterprises.

    Also, EU member states shall vote against extending loans to Burma from international institutions. In addition, the Commission is requested to produce specific proposals to address the issue of Burmese illegal logging, including opportunities for decreasing deforestation in and export of teak from Burma. Furthermore, the EU will then expand assistance to the people of Burma in the areas of health and education, defined in consultation with democratic groups, including the National League for Democracy, and managed through the UN system or non-governmental organisations.

    The summit will provide us with an opportunity to confront Burma with our concerns on human rights and the need for democratic reforms. We expect the level of Burmese participation to be lower than at the level of Head of State/Government.

    The EU looks forward to the Summit as it allows us also to strengthen our ties with Asia. Preparation on the content of the ASEM V Summit will be taken up by our delegates to the Senior Officials Meeting and to the economic co-ordinators meeting in Hanoi, next Monday September 6th.


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