The decision to suspend engagement has been made based on the 2013 Trade and Investment Framework Agreement

The decision to suspend engagement has been made based on the 2013 Trade and Investment Framework Agreement

The US has suspended all engagement with Myanmar under a trade and investment agreement until the return of a democratically elected government.

United States Trade Representative (USTR) Katherine Tai made the announcement on Monday (29 March) and is effective immediately.

The decision has been made based on the 2013 Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) – a platform for ongoing dialogue and cooperation on trade and investment issues. Myanmar agreed to cooperate with the US on programmes to support economic reforms, inclusive development, and integration into the global trading system.

On the important issue of labor rights, through the Agreement, Mynanmar "recognised the importance of respecting, promoting, and realising fundamental labour rights as enumerated by the International Labor Organization, and of effectively enforcing its respective laws and regulations on worker rights".

Tai said: "The United States supports the people of Burma in their efforts to restore a democratically elected government, which has been the foundation of Burma's economic growth and reform. The United States strongly condemns the Burmese security forces' brutal violence against civilians. The killing of peaceful protestors, students, workers, labour leaders, medics, and children has shocked the conscience of the international community. These actions are a direct assault on the country's transition to democracy and the efforts of the Burmese people to achieve a peaceful and prosperous future."

In addition to suspending future TIFA engagements with the military regime, USTR said it will consider the situation in Myanmar with respect to the internationally recognised worker rights eligibility criterion as Congress considers reauthorisation of the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) programme.

Reports that the military has targeted Mynamar's trade unions and workers for their role in the pro-democracy protests raise serious concerns about worker rights protections, USTR says.

Italian clothing retailer OVS became the latest company to suspend production with suppliers in Myanmar that discriminate against workers involved in rallies against the military junta.

Earlier in the month, H&M Group and Benetton had said they were suspending new orders with suppliers in Myanmar over concerns of human rights violations.

Garment, footwear and accessories are Myanmar's three largest export sectors, accounting for one-third of total exports. Exports of garments, footwear, and accessories have more than tripled since 2016 to US$5.8bn, with the sector also a huge source of employment. The nearly 600 factories in the country employ around 500,000 workers.

Following weeks of worsening political tensions in the Southeast Asian country after disputed elections in November 2020, the military seized power on 1 February, just hours before the first sitting of the new parliament.

A state of emergency has been imposed for up to one year, state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and president U Win Myint have been detained, and communications in much of the country have been cut off.

A report published by Reuters on Monday claims Saturday (27 February) was the "bloodiest day of protests" in Myanmar since the 1 February military coup with 114 people killed.

"Five more were killed on Monday when thousands took to the streets again in opposition to the military returning to power after a decade," the report said.

Fashion brands have been urged to publicly condemn the coup but to maintain dialogue and honour all existing commitments made to factories.