President Obama signed Sept. 14 a proclamation that will reinstate Burma’s eligibility for benefits under the Generalized System of Preferences as of Nov. 13 following a 27-year lapse. Burma will also be designated as a least-developed beneficiary developing country for purposes of GSP, giving it the opportunity to export approximately 5,000 products to the U.S. duty-free. According to a press release from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Burma’s exports to the U.S. grew from $38,000 in 2012 to $142 million in 2015 and include a number of GSP-eligible goods, including dried peas, rattan products, wood products, and travel goods such as handbags and backpacks.
The U.S. suspended Burma’s GSP benefits in April 1989 due to worker rights concerns. After Burma requested reinstatement in 2013, USTR led what it called “an extensive review” of Burma’s compliance with all the GSP eligibility criteria, with a particular focus on Burma’s recent record of labor reforms and strengthened worker protections.
USTR states that the reinstatement of GSP eligibility acknowledges the progress Burma has made to date in these areas and encourages continued progress to address remaining labor concerns and challenges. For example, Burma is working with the U.S., the European Union, Japan, Denmark, and the International Labor Organization on an initiative launched in November 2014 that is intended to help modernize Burma’s labor code, improve compliance with international labor standards, and foster a robust dialogue between government, business, labor, and civil society. “While there is more work to be done, including to address concerns regarding human trafficking,” USTR Mike Froman said, “Burma has made important progress” and “we see Burma’s democratically-elected government giving new hope to its people, making commitments to continue implementing reforms that strengthen workers’ voices, and working to combat forced and child labor.”