Gardner Introduces Bill to Assist Democratic Transition and Spur Economic Development in Burma

Washington, DC – Senator Cory Gardner, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy, along with Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) today introduced the Empower Burma Act, legislation that aims to assist in Burma’s democratic transition by requiring the United States to lead a worldwide effort to assist in Burma’s economic development. The introduction of the legislation coincides with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s first official visit to Washington as Burma’s de-facto leader.

In November 2015, Burma held an historic election that ushered in a democratic government after nearly 60 years of military rule. However, Burma faces significant challenges that the new democratic government must urgently address to solidify democratic gains in the country. Burma is currently one of the least developed countries in Southeast Asia – 25 percent of its residents live below the poverty line and only 30 percent have access to reliable electricity.

The Empower Burma Act directs the Administration to produce a comprehensive, long-term strategy to promote sustainable economic development in Burma, including meeting Burma’s stated goal of universal access to electricity by 2030. The legislation also directs U.S. representatives of multilateral development agencies, including the World Bank and Asia Development Bank, to support and advocate for development projects in Burma. The legislation also supports extending to Burma U.S. Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) benefits as well as future Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) assistance, so long as Burma meets all relevant criteria for inclusion. Lastly, the legislation expresses that Congress must be closely consulted prior to lifting or amending any existing U.S. sanctions toward Burma.

“After returning from Burma and meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi and her top advisors, it was clear to me that one of this government’s top priorities is providing immediate economic benefits to the Burmese people suffering decades of ruinous military rule. Nowhere is this more apparent than achieving increased access to electricity, which only a third of Burmese residents enjoy today,” said Gardner. “The Empower Burma Act aims to help to direct U.S. policy to help Burma tackle its many economic challenges during the democratic transition. The United States has an opportunity to lead, and this legislation represents action we can take now to deliver development and democracy – and the freedoms and opportunity that come with it – to the Burmese people.”

“As a once-in-a-generation figure, Aung San Suu Kyi has courageously fought for decades to institute a more open, transparent, and fair democracy in Burma,” said Senator Sullivan. “As she visits Washington this week, I am hopeful that the Empower Burma Act will help reaffirm the value that the U.S. places on its evolving partnership with Burma. It is also a critical signal to the Burmese people that they are not alone and that we stand ready to help them address some of the persistent issues that – as new democracy – they now face, such as an ongoing fight for peace, increased civilian control of the military, and improving crippling and widespread poverty.”

Earlier this week, Gardner met with Scot Marciel, the U.S. Ambassador to Burma, to discuss the U.S. presence in Burma and how we can best assist in the democratic transition. In June, Gardner participated in a Congressional delegation visit to Burma and had the opportunity to meet with State Counselor and Minister of Foreign Affairs Aung San Suu Kyi, President Htin Kyaw, and Burma’s Commander-in-Chief, and Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. Gardner has been outspoken in encouraging Burma’s democratic transition and welcomed the swearing in of President Htin Kyaw as the first civilian president in more than 50 years.

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