Friday, July 15, 2011

Targeted Sanctions: Cruel Australian Punishment

Garment Factory Workers in Rangoon.

Since 1997 the imposing of brutally harsh economic sanctions, both financial and trade, against Burma one of the poorest countries on earth has been a fashionable practice for the so-called western democracies like USA, UK, and Australia. (And the Marrickville Council controlled by the Greens aka the Watermelons.)

Responding the calls of Burma’s first and only Nobel Laureate ASSK to impose sanctions against her own people the Great USA has been the worst in punishing the destitute people of Burma for their misfortune of having a government controlled by the army founded by ASSK’s own father Late General Aung San and run by his leftwing extreme nationalist comrades for last 60 years.

Absolutely no trade and no financial dealings with Burma have been allowed by the U.S. and the harsh American sanctions basically killed the textile and seafood processing industries overnight.

Thousands and thousands of young women and girls working in those two industries ended up in brothels, massage parlors, karaoke bars, and some other places of ill reputes. This is what U.S. Rangoon Embassy said about the brutally harsh sanctions.

“United States prohibits the importation into the United States of any article that is the product of Burma.

United States prohibits new investment in Burma by U.S. persons and U.S. persons’ facilitation of new investment in Burma by foreign persons.

United States prohibits the exportation or reexportation to Burma of financial services from the United States or by U.S. persons, wherever located.

Any person who willfully commits, willfully attempts to commit, or willfully conspires to commit, or aids or abets in the commission of, a violation of prohibition shall, upon conviction, be fined not more than $1,000,000, or if a natural person, may be imprisoned for not more than 20 years, or both.”

Australia the Deputy Sheriff

Burmese Prawn-processing Girls.
So what the deputy sheriff of USA in Asia and Pacific has to do to please the gun-totting sheriff USA? The Australian Government didn’t want to go all the way in imposing economic sanctions against Burma like U.S. has done. They didn’t want to tarnish their friendly standing with the Asian neighbors.

Burma could put all their so-called Muslim Rohingyas in the rickety boats and send them to Christmas Island. Even without the Burmese the riotous refugee camps here are filling fast by the Iraqi and Afghan Boat People and most Aussies hate refugees especially the Islamic ones. So our clever politicians and their “Yes Minister” bureaucrats have come up with a smart action called Targeted Financial Sanctions against Burma.

The spin was quite simple. Instead of punishing the whole populace of Burma with punitive sanctions Australia would pick only the bad guys aka the Burmese generals, their families, and their business cronies and give them a bitter medicine of Targeted Financial Sanctions so that their dictatorial tendencies would be cured and they would finally become democratic ones. So far so good!

To facilitate the so-called Targeted Financial Sanctions the Autonomous Sanctions Bill was passed by the Australian Parliament. Following is the definition of Autonomous Sanctions by the Australian DFAT (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade) the principle enforcer of the sanctions.

DFAT in Canberra.
“Autonomous sanctions are a key tool in Australian Diplomacy. They are punitive measures not involving the use of armed force which a government imposes as a matter of foreign policy – as opposed to an international obligation under a United Nations Security Council decision – in situations of international concern.

Such situations include the grave repression of the human rights or democratic freedoms of a population by a government, or the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) or their means of delivery, or internal or international armed conflict.

Examples include violent crackdowns on pro-democracy protestors by the military regime in Burma, and the ongoing disrespect for the human rights and democratic aspirations of the Burmese people.

They are called “autonomous” to distinguish them from sanctions applied under international obligations arising from United Nations Security Council (UNSC) decisions.”

According to the DFAT, Australia has implemented targeted autonomous sanctions against members of the Burmese regime and their associates and supporters. The Targeted Financial Sanctions (implemented by the Reserve Bank of Australia) currently cover restrictions on financial transactions involving the Burmese regime and their associates and supporters.


RBA in Sydney.
So how does the enforcer RBA manage the Targeted Financial Sanctions? Here is what RBA has on its website.

“Australian Autonomous Financial sanctions are aimed at prohibiting international funds transfers and other transactions using foreign currency involving the sanctioned persons and entities listed in annexes to the legislative instruments, without the specific pre-approval of the Reserve Bank.

Transactions involving persons or entities suspected of matching persons or entities on the sanctions lists should be referred to the Reserve Bank.

Restrictions currently apply to certain financial transactions relating to the individuals associated with the Burmese regime.

A list of such persons and entities subject to financial sanctions administered by the Reserve Bank of Australia is available.”

The list had 463 names topped by now retired Senior-General Than Shwe and his whole family including his 15 year old grand son. There the problem has started for the rest of the Burmese populace who genuinely want to trade with Australia.

Nobody even the Burmese knows how many Than Shwe or how many Shwe Than or similar versions of that name exist in Burma. Probably close to 100,000. The Burmese practice of not having the family names or first names makes the name checking process extremely difficult or even impossible for the financial institutions in Australia to comply with the Targeted Financial sanctions. And the penalties for non-compliance are hefty.

This is what DFAT said of the hefty penalties for violating the Autonomous Financial Sanctions.

“A breach of the autonomous sanctions attracts criminal liability for both individuals and corporations. In the case of corporations the offence is one of strict liability.

An individual who contravenes a sanctions law commits an offence that is punishable by imprisonment for a maximum of 10 years and/or a fine amounting to the greater of three times the value of the contravening transaction(s) or 2,500 penalty units (currently $275,000).

If a corporation contravenes a sanction law, it commits an offence that is punishable by a fine amounting to the greater of three times the value of the contravening transaction(s) or 10,000 penalty units (currently $1,100,000).”

Facing that sort of penalty the Australian banks here are not really willing to facilitate the trade transactions such as providing the Irrevocable Letter of Credit (ILC) for Australian importers and their Burmese exporters like they used to do for bringing into Australia cheap Burmese processed-seafood.

Total Shutdown of Trade between Burma and Australia?

“We do not discourage or encourage the trade between Australia and Burma,” is what Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade proudly declares on its website.

I used to involve in the Australia-Burma trade as a middle man between the Burmese exporters and Australian importers here. Australia used to import many container loads of processed prawns and fish from Burma at real cheap prices even compared to the places like Communist Vietnam.

A REEFER Container.
Process was quite simple. The Australian importer had to initiate an ILC through an Australian bank to his Burmese counterpart through MFTB (Myanmar Foreign Trade Bank). Once the Burmese importer received the confirmation of that ILC he stuffed the REEFER (A refrigerated container) and loaded into a ship.

Once the shipping company issued the BL (Bill of Lading) the Burmese exporter got the money and when the REFFER arrived here the stuff inside was claimed by the Australian importer.

But now that process is extremely complicated by the so-called Targeted Financial Sanctions. To avoid the possible million dollar fines the Australian bank concerned has to check the background of the Burmese exporter to whom the ILC is initiated.

But the bank has no resources and facility to do just that. So the Australian bank is forced to apply for prior-permission from the RBA for every case. And same as the bank the RBA has no facility and resources to check. So they have to ask DFAT and the DFAT has to send the case to Australian Embassy in Rangoon. And the overloaded Embassy just sits on that case and does nothing.

Finally the Australian banks are so sick of it they just simply refuse to deal anymore with Burma and basically shut down all trade between Australia and Burma.

This is what ANZ one of the four major Australian banks replied to my inquiry about initiating an ILC which we used to do so many times with them for many years since 1996.

“We cannot assist with any transactions to or from Burma. Burma is a sanctioned country.”

Other Australian banks also have the exact same policy when it comes to dealing with Burma and Burmese processors and exporters suffer and went bankrupt as the result.

Not just Burmese seafood-processing factories taking the brunt of Australian Autonomous Sanctions the Australian importers have also suffered too. One of the biggest seafood importers in Sydney just went bankrupt and the Targeted Financial Sanctions against Burma were one of the reasons.

Its Burmese counterpart one of the largest seafood exporters in Rangoon was gone well before them. I know for so sure that they had nothing to do with SG Than Shwe or the military government in Burma. But they paid the price same as the destitute people of Burma has been paying dearly for a long time since 1997.