Burma / Myanmar Legal Update: U.S. Liberalizes Sanctions


On 11 July, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) substantially relaxed U.S. economic sanctions against Burma.  OFAC’s action implemented policies announced by the Obama Administration earlier this year.

The central elements of OFAC’s action suspend two of the foremost components of U.S. sanctions regarding Burma:

  • the general ban on supply of financial services to Burma and
  • the general ban on new investment in Burma.

As detailed below, however, there are limitations on these elements. In addition, the U.S. government did not suspend "blocking measures" that place many Burmese persons on the U.S. list of "specially designated nationals." Blocking measures broadly forbid U.S. companies and individuals to engage in transactions in which a specially designated national has a direct or indirect interest. In fact, OFAC’s action added a Burma-related blocking measure via a new executive order and added Burmese persons to the specially designated nationals list. (Entities that are 50%-or-more owned by specially designated nationals are also considered to be blocked.)

Key elements of OFAC’s action include the following:

  • OFAC General License No. 16
    authorizes the exportation of U.S. financial services to Burma, unless it is in connection with provision of security or financial services to the Burmese Ministry of Defense. Exportation of financial services to specially designated nationals and other blocked persons generally remains prohibited.
  • OFAC General License No. 17
    authorizes new U.S. investment in Burma, unless the new investment is undertaken pursuant to an agreement with the Burmese Ministry of Defense or a specially designated national or other blocked person.
  • Reporting requirements
    any U.S. person engaging in new investment in Burma pursuant to General License No. 17 whose aggregate new investment exceeds $500,000 must comply with special reporting requirements, including a requirement to submit annual reports to the U.S. Department of State. Also, U.S. persons undertaking new investment pursuant to an agreement with the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise must notify the State Department within 60 days of such new investment.

In general, the U.S. is a follower in the general international movement towards liberalized Burma sanctions. The EU had already relaxed its sanctions regarding Burma earlier this year.  And the U.S. was starting with a sanctions regime that was more far-reaching than the Burma sanctions of most jurisdictions.

Nevertheless, we anticipate that the U.S. action will be broadly perceived as placing a stamp of legitimacy on Burma sanctions liberalization and will lead to sanctions liberalization among other jurisdictions.