Sanctions lifting could revive Myanmar industry

By Todd Pitman

Associated Press

Published: Monday, April 23 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Myint Soe said he was forced to lay off about 80 percent of his factory's 500-strong work force.

"It was painful. Each one cried and asked 'why?'" he said in an interview. "The sanctions targeted the government, but it didn't affect them. It was the people, the workers, who really got hurt."

Since then, Myanmar's garment industry has been able to regain jobs and markets as companies shifted their focus to Asia, where trade is unrestricted. Myint Soe said the apparel industry could emerge even stronger than before if it succeeds in moving back into its old markets in Europe and the U.S.

There has been debate over the value of sanctions, but many longtime opponents of the military regime say they have been effective, shaming the nation's rulers and preventing them from traveling to some countries like the United States.

Hkun Tun Oo, a senior politician representing the ethnic minority Shan party who was released from jail in a mass amnesty in January, said the EU's temporary suspension was the right move.

"It's quite an appropriate action, because if things do not improve within a year, sanctions can be renewed. The threat is still there," he said. That means the international community "can still influence the government."

For garment factory workers who make $120 per month or less, the eventual end of sanctions will be a big deal.

For Phyu Phyu Swe, 33, who was sewing a stack of uniforms bound for Japan, it will mean job security, and possibly more money in bonuses.

"I have family members depending on my income, and this is the only skill I know," she said. "So I always hope and dream that this industry will get back on its feet."

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