By Ashis Biswas
Myanmar authorities, currently embroiled in an escalating civil war against armed groups of pro-democracy activists, have been forced to cut exports of essential goods to Bangladesh, owing to fresh US economic sanctions. To start with, the export of food items through the Maungdaw port in the Rakhine province has been discontinued.
This follows the freezing of accounts of two Myanmar state banks by Sonali bank authorities of Bangladesh, in response to fresh US-imposed sanctions targeting Naypitaw.
Recently, the US Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions against the Myanmar bank of Foreign Trade and the Myanmar Investment and Commercial Bank. These banks have funds amounting to over $ 1.70 million deposited at the Sonali bank in Bangladesh. Fresh restrictions against the Myanmar banks followed the earlier round of US sanctions issued in the wake of the February 2021 army coup.
According to sources , US authorities kept Bangladesh ‘informed’ about the new orders, emphasizing a specific instruction to freeze existing funds.
Sonali Bank in Bangladesh then proceeded to freeze Myanmar’s accounts,, falling in line with the OFAC directive. It also informed other commercial banks to avoid transaction with the two concerned banks, as urged by US authorities. Observers said Dhaka-based authorities had little choice in the matter, their country hardly being in a position to invite more problems vis-à-vis the US just before the general elections or risk facing fresh sanctions itself.
According to one report, Myanmar exported food items including rice, beans, onions and other stuff worth $4.5 million between April and August this year. Bangladesh is seeking to buy additional stocks of rice from other countries including India and the cut announced by Myanmar authorities could have a negative impact. The country imports sizable quantities of rice annually and the uncertainties in the international food trade in the post Ukraine war period have added to the worries of most Governments in South Asia.
Myanmar commerce department authorities apprehended possibilities of increased smuggling of food items in the region, that could pose a problem for both governments. Therefore Naypitaw announced, from now on such exports would be routed only through the existing commercial zone at Sittwe in the Rakhine province.
Dhaka’s choices are limited, according to analysts. There are strains in US/Bangla ties, over issues relating to alleged HR violations in Bangladesh and the generally negative western reaction towards the Awami League government narrative on such matters. The Dhaka-based establishment whether with the ruling party or in opposition, would like to avoid any further misunderstanding between the two countries through any fresh new tensions.
However, Myanmar authorities, somewhat upset, arranged to meet Dhaka officials in Dhaka. BD officials then explained the situation at length.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh authorities on their part reiterated their requests to Myanmar to facilitate the return to Myanmar to the extent possible of the lakhs of stranded Rohingya Muslims as early as possible. Bangladesh had looked after them for years, but in the process it had suffered enormously in terms of economy, general governance, environmental losses and other social-economic problems.
Junta spokesmen, who officially present a more reasonable approach towards the Rohingya issue by not opposing the demand for repatriation, reaffirmed their intent to speed things up , while pointing to existing difficulties. Dhaka-based media reports indicated that given the glacially slow pace of the Rohingya repatriation process and official negotiations involved with it, Myanmar’s assurances hardly helped in lifting Bangladeshi hopes for any early improvement in the present situation. (IPA Service)