Executive Session

Floor Speech

By:  Mitch McConnell
Date: Aug. 2, 2012
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, I rise today to applaud Senate passage of the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act. The measure extends for another year the import ban with regard to Burma.

I would like to clarify two issues that have prompted some confusion regarding this legislation.

First, the measure we are passing renews import sanctions for 1 year and 1 year only. I emphasize this point because it has been misreported that this bill renews sanctions for 3 years. That is not accurate; the bill renews them only for 1.

Second, enactment of this bill does not overturn the easing of investment and financial sanctions that the administration unveiled earlier this year. In fact, this year's bill, as in years past, provides authority for the administration to waive the import sanctions should it determine that certain conditions have been met. Before deciding whether to waive import sanctions, I would strongly urge the administration not only to consider the changes occurring within Burma but also to consult closely with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy.

This year's legislation comes at a time of historic changes on the ground in Burma. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, long a political prisoner in the country, is now a member of Parliament. The National League for Democracy, once a banned organization, now actively participates in the political life of Burma.

For these reasons, the administration has taken a number of actions to acknowledge the impressive reforms that President Thein Sein and his government have instituted. The United States has responded by sending an ambassador to Burma for the first time in two decades. The administration also largely waived the investment ban and financial restrictions, permitting U.S. businesses to begin investing again in Burma.

For my part, I want to see investment in the ``new'' Burma. I want to see Burmese reformers empowered accordingly, and I want to see greater economic development come to this underdeveloped country. And, frankly, during challenging economic times here at home, I want American businesses to be able to compete in Burma now that sanctions have been removed by other Western governments.

That said, high standards for accountability in American business operations in Burma are important going forward. This seems particularly acute with regard to transactions involving Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise. I would urge U.S. businesses to show the Burmese people and the world the positive effects that American investment prompts. I am confident that, as they do elsewhere around the world, U.S. enterprises in Burma will set the standard for ethical and transparent business practices and lead the way for others to follow.

I would be remiss if I did not note the significant challenges in Burma that lie ahead. Ongoing violence in Kachin State and sectarian tensions in Arakan State reflect the long-term challenge of national reconciliation. Hundreds of political prisoners remain behind bars. The constitution still has a number of undemocratic elements. And the regime's relationship with North Korea, especially when it comes to arms sales with Pyongyang, remains an issue of grave concern.

Even with these challenges, however, I am greatly encouraged by the progress that has been made over the past year and a half in Burma. My colleagues and I in the Senate will continue to monitor developments in the country with great interest and with hope for the future.