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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
05RANGOON1094 2005-09-27 09:31:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Rangoon
Cable title:  

COMMERCE AND LABOR MINISTERS PAINT A ROSY PICTURE

Tags:   ECON ELAB ETRD PHUM PREL BM 
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					C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 RANGOON 001094 

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS; PACOM FOR FPA

E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/26/2015
TAGS: ECON ELAB ETRD PHUM PREL BM
SUBJECT: COMMERCE AND LABOR MINISTERS PAINT A ROSY PICTURE

REF: A. 04 RANGOON 1437

B. 04 RANGOON 1402

Classified By: CDA Shari Villarosa for Reasons 1.4 (b,d)



1. (C) SUMMARY: In separate introductory calls on the
Ministers of Commerce and Labor, the Charge heard different
but equally unrealistic views on Burma's economy and the
country's labor situation. The Commerce Minister advanced
the traditional GOB argument that forced labor is "an
accepted part of Burmese culture." The Labor Minister
claimed, despite evidence to the contrary, that Burma is
still cooperating with the International Labor Organization
(ILO) and has educated the public about their rights to
reduce the number of cases. Both Ministers complained about
the impact of sanctions. They welcomed the Charge's interest
in traveling around the country, apparently oblivious to the
likelihood that she will see a very different country than
the one they seem to be living in. END SUMMARY.

What Forced Labor?


--------------------------





2. (C) At the Charge's September 23 courtesy call, Commerce
Minister Brig Gen Tin Naing Thein said that it is the "nature
of the world" that people suffer, and it is traditional in
Burmese culture that the people participate in "public
building projects." He cited as precedents the building of
Rome and the Great Wall of China, along with the westward
expansion of the United States. The Charge countered that
people should have the freedom to decide whether to work on
such projects and not be forced. She dismissed the practices
of hundreds and thousands of years ago, pointing out that
today internationally accepted standards address such labor
situations. She urged the Minister to work with ILO on this
issue.



3. (C) At a similar courtesy call later that day, Labor
Minister (retired Colonel and former Ambassador to the U.S.)
U Thaung agreed with the Charge about the value of working
with the ILO, claiming that the GOB investigates allegations
of forced labor and that the ILO Liaison Officer in Burma has
the same freedom of movement as all other UN employees. "We
want to eradicate forced labor," U Thaung asserted,
describing efforts to educate the public about their rights.
He assured Charge that rural workers could file complaints
with local labor officials and that the GOB always prosecuted
those who break the law.



4. (C) Note: The Charge and Emboffs met on September 21 with
ILO Liaison Officer Richard Horsey. He observed that while
the GOB has backed away from recent threats to quit the ILO
altogether, Burma's overall cooperation on forced labor
issues had essentially ceased. Following the June
International Labor Conference in Geneva, the GOB unleashed a
nationwide anti-ILO campaign (through its mass-member
proxies), which has rendered ILO outreach activities inside
Burma mostly impossible and also led to over two dozen
anonymous death threats directly at Horsey and his family.
Although the GOB convicted ten officials on labor charges
earlier in the year, Horsey said that the anti-ILO rallies
"send a signal that cooperation is over, and it's back to
(forced labor) business as usual." End Note.

Open Doors Locked on the Outside


--------------------------





5. (C) Brig Gen Tin Naing Thein, the Minister of Commerce,
stated that Burma is open to trade with all other nations,
primarily through its membership in WTO and regional
associations, but said the country's "door is closed from the
outside because of sanctions." When the Charge pointed out
that Burma's neighbors had no sanctions, he replied that
ASEAN trade initiatives do not benefit Burma because they
focus mostly on investment and trade in finished products and
raw materials, while Burma's economy is heavily agricultural.
Burma is 30-40 years behind other countries, he said, so it
can't be expected like other ASEAN members to take advantage
of the benefits of globalization.



6. (C) The Minister admitted that foreign direct investment
had declined significantly since 2000, and asked for
recommendations. The Charge replied that Burma needed to
develop clear and transparent rules, provide fair and
impartial courts to resolve disputes, and ensure it had a
realistic exchange rate. The Minister responded that private
companies are free to enter into contracts "with no
restrictions." The GOB kept changing trade rules and
regulations, he asserted, to survive the impact of Western
sanctions.

A Workers' Paradise


--------------------------





7. (C) Burma, the Labor Minister stressed, needs to transform
from an agriculture-based economy to a manufacturing nation.
Under a new "National Plan," the GOB will establish a
university, technical college, computer college, and
hospital in each of twenty-four Regional Zones and will
develop villages with "complete infrastructure and full
development services." To help poor, unskilled workers in
rural areas, U Thaung said his Ministry is offering localized
skills training and assistance for displaced garment workers
to find new jobs. His Ministry is also working with other
ministries to develop a comprehensive program to prevent
human trafficking, for example assisting at border control
points to identify potential victims.

Comment: Pure Fantasy


--------------------------





8. (SBU) Brig Gen Tin Naing Thein took over the Ministry of
Commerce one year ago. U Thaung became Labor Minister as
part of the post-Khin Nyunt shake-up in late 2004 (ref A).
Western diplomats rarely have access to any cabinet-level
officials, and this was our first meeting with either
Minister.



9. (C) Both Ministers offered standard GOB views on labor and
the economy that have little to do with reality. Do they
really believe this? Burmese and foreign businessmen are
quite vocal with their criticisms. The ILO talks with anyone
who will talk to them. Or are they willfully ignorant? Over
and over we hear that no one can deliver bad news to the
leadership. These two did not get to be Ministers because
they have any expertise, but because they are yes men. So
they provide happy news while the economy continues to
steadily deteriorate. Interestingly, both Ministers welcomed
the Charge's plans to travel widely around the country. We
will cite their approval as we endeavor to provide a more
realistic picture of developments in Burma. END COMMENT.
Villarosa