President Obama ended two decades of U.S. economic sanctions on Burma on October 7, 2016, when he issued Executive Order (E.O.) 13742, "Termination of Emergency with Respect to the Actions and Policies of the Government of Burma." E.O. 13742 ended the national emergency with respect to Burma that had been in effect since 1997, and revoked that order and five other Executive Orders that imposed, enforced, or waived economic sanctions on Burma. In addition, E.O. 13742 waived the economic sanctions authorized by Section 5(b) of the Tom Lantos Block Burmese JADE (Junta's Anti-Democratic Efforts) Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-286; JADE Act), pursuant to Section 5(i) of that act, finding it in the national interest of the United States to do so.
The President's action fulfills a pledge he made on September 14, 2016, during State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi's visit to Washington, as reflected in the joint statement released after their meeting. During Aung San Suu Kyi's visit, President Obama also ended another economic sanction by reinstating Burma's trade benefits under the U.S. Generalized Systems of Preferences (GSP) program.
With E.O. 13742, the President terminated the national emergency with respect to Burma declared on May 20, 1997, in E.O. 13047. That E.O. had invoked the authority granted by the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (50 U.S.C. 1701 et seq.) to impose economic sanctions. E.O. 13742 also revoked E.O. 13310, E.O. 13448, E.O. 13464, E.O. 13619, and E.O. 13651, which had subsequently modified the sanctions regime.
Following the release of E.O. 13742, the Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued a statement indicating that it was removing all Burmese nationals and entities on OFAC's Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (SDN) list designated under the Burma sanctions program. OFAC also indicated that any Burmese national entity listed under other sanction regimes (such as counter-narcotics trafficking or North Korea sanctions) would continue to be subject to economic restrictions. OFAC's revised SDN list (when searched for "Burma") still includes 23 individuals and 10 entities.
The Executive Order does not terminate all of the U.S. sanctions on Burma (see CRS Report R44570, U.S. Restrictions on Relations with Burma). Prohibitions on the issuance of visas to certain Burmese nationals contained in Section 570(a)(3) of the Foreign Operations, Export Financing, and Related Programs Appropriations Act of 1997 (P.L. 104-208) and Section 5(a)(1) of the JADE Act remain in effect. In addition, certain restrictions on U.S. relations with Burma's military, the Tatmadaw, and related interests remain in force. These include an arms embargo (imposed by the State Department in 1993) and Section 7043(b)(2) of P.L. 114-113 (temporarily extended for FY2017 by P.L. 114-223) which bars the use of appropriated funds for International Military Education and Training (IMET) and Foreign Military Financing (FMF) programs in Burma. In addition, Section 7043(b)(1) prohibits the use of Economic Support Fund appropriations to:
Groups in Burma and the United States have responded to the lifting of sanctions in different ways. On September 12, 2016, the United Nationalities Federal Council, a coalition of many of Burma's ethnic armed groups (EAGs), sent a letter to President Obama requesting that the sanctions remain in effect until "reforms have been made to bring the [Burmese] military under democratic control and civilian oversight." Human Rights Watch also opposed the lifting of the economic sanctions, as did 46 other human rights organizations. The Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry, however, in cooperation with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, released a white paper in June 2016 recommending Burma's reinstatement in the GSP program and the lifting of the economic sanctions on Burma. The U.S.-ASEAN Business Council also supported ending the sanctions.
The congressional reaction was also mixed. Several Members made public statements, including Senator Cardin, Representatives Chabot and Crowley (joint statement), and Senator Gardner. At issue are differences in opinion over what U.S. policy towards Burma should be, as well as the adequacy of the administration's efforts to consult Members about proposed changes in U.S. policy toward Burma.
Most observers consider it unlikely that the 114th Congress will take up any pending Burma-specific legislation (such as S. 3313 and S. 3325) during its "lame duck" session. The 114th Congress may have an opportunity to consider Burma-related provisions in FY2017 appropriations legislation. The House and Senate versions of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act (H.R. 5912 and S. 3117) would continue the various assistance restrictions to Burma contained in P.L. 114-113 for FY2017, with some minor adjustments.
The upcoming 115th Congress may also respond to the termination of the economic sanctions. It could pass legislation reexamining U.S. policy toward Burma in general. The laws in place setting U.S. policy—principally the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act (P.L. 108-61) and the JADE Act—were written when Burma was governed by a military junta. Over the last eight years, Burma has undergone significant changes, including the promulgation of a new constitution, the landslide victory of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy in nationwide parliamentary elections, and some tentative progress toward negotiating an end to the nation's long-standing low-grade civil war. As such, some Members may support a reformulation of U.S. policy toward Burma. The 115th Congress may seek formally or informally to ascertain the new administration's intentions with respect to the implementation of U.S. policy toward Burma before taking any specific action.