The US is to begin the process of lifting sanctions against Burma (also known as Myanmar), including a ban on imports, in a move that is likely to boost the country's garment industry.

US secretary of state Hilary Clinton announced the plans in talks with Burmese president Thein Sein at the United Nations General Assembly today (27 September).

"In recognition of the continued progress toward reform and in response to requests from both the government and the opposition, the United States is taking the next step in normalising our commercial relationship," said Clinton.

"We will begin the process of easing restrictions on imports of Burmese goods into the United States. We hope this will provide more opportunities for your people to sell their goods into our market.

"As we do so, we will continue consulting with Congress and other relevant stakeholders about additional steps, while at the same time working with you and supporting those who are hoping that the reform will be permanent and progress will be continuing."

The import ban has been in place since 2003. Before the ban was introduced, the country's largest exports to the US were garments, according to think-tank International Crisis Group.

The country has taken progressive steps over the past year to improve human rights and implement democratic reforms. These steps have resulted in, among other things, the election of opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to the legislature.

The American Apparel & Footwear Association said it looks forward to the "resumption of full trade relations grounded in the rule of law and a predictable business and investment climate."

But AAFA president and CEO Kevin Burke, cautioned: "We also look forward to working with Burmese stakeholders to ensure that apparel and footwear produced in Burma is done so under socially responsible conditions, where workers are afforded opportunities and are treated with fairness and respect."