Britain relaxes Myanmar trade policy

Britain will no longer discourage trade with Myanmar, Foreign Secretary William Hague said Thursday, after British Prime Minister David Cameron made a landmark trip to the former pariah state.

Myanmar's relations with the international community have thawed rapidly since elections on April 1 gave opposition leader Aung Sang Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy 43 seats in parliament.

The change in British policy comes after Cameron made a joint call with Suu Kyi this month for the European Union to ease sanctions against the impoverished country.

"After discussion with Aung San Suu Kyi and very careful consideration, I can announce that the British government will lift its policy of discouraging trade with Burma," Hague said.

"We believe that at this moment in time, the right kind of responsible trade and investment can help aid the country's transition," he said in a lecture in Singapore.

Britain is also opening a branch of its Foreign Office in Myanmar's new capital Naypyidaw, Hague announced on Thursday.

"A British interests office in the administrative capital would strengthen the work of our embassy in Rangoon (Yangon) and demonstrate our intention to step up engagement with the Burmese government and people," he said.

"The office would provide enhanced access to government interlocutors who are based in Naypyidaw," he added in a statement to British lawmakers.

"This access would be vital for UK/Burmese relations and for encouraging democratic reform in the country."

Cameron this month became the first Western leader in decades to visit Myanmar.

Since the elections, widely seen as a step towards democracy for army-dominated Myanmar, Canada has suspended most sanctions and Japan has waived $3.7 billion of Myanmar's debt.

But the United States on Wednesday ruled out an immediate end to its main sanctions on Myanmar, saying it wanted to preserve leverage to push the regime on an end to ethnic violence and other key issues.

Suu Kyi announced last week that she plans to visit Britain in June as part of her first trip outside Myanmar in 24 years.

The Nobel laureate, who grew to embody Myanmar's struggle for democracy and was imprisoned there for most of the past two decades, has not set foot outside Myanmar since 1988.

Hague also announced that Britain was reopening its embassy in Laos after 27 years.

"Reopening the embassy will strengthen our bilateral relations with the Laotian government as the country's role and influence in the region continues to grow," Hague said.

"Trade between our countries has more than doubled in the last year. An embassy will play a vital role in helping more British businesses access this emerging market."

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