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U.S. trade bank launches operations in Myanmar

Fred Hochberg, chairman and president of the Export-Import Bank of the United States, testifies before a Senate Banking, Housing and Urban A
Fred Hochberg, chairman and president of the Export-Import Bank of the United States, testifies before a Senate Banking, Housing and Urban A

By David Brunnstrom

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Export-Import Bank of the United States said it launched operations in Myanmar on Thursday, a move to support U.S. exporters against competitors and help reintegrate the country into the world economy.

Fred Hochberg, chairman of the U.S. government lending agency, said the announcement would send "a strong signal that we are committed to strengthening economic ties with Burma as the nation continues its transition."

"This decision ... will improve trade flows between our two countries and help reintegrate Burma into the global economy," he said in a statement, adding that it would also open an important new market for U.S. exports and support American jobs.

The U.S. move follows the launching of political and economic reforms in Myanmar since 2011 when a military government stepped aside and the country started to move away from nearly half a century of army rule and international isolation.

A senior bank official, briefing reporters in a conference call, said its decision was made possible by a lifting of U.S. sanctions and the end of a year-long moratorium on relending that followed a big debt write-off by the Paris Club of creditor countries.

Another bank official said there were "exciting opportunities" in Myanmar for U.S. exporters of agricultural commodities, in the transportation sector, and in infrastructure, including power, mining and agricultural equipment.

The bank said it would be able to provide export-credit insurance, loan guarantees and direct loans for export sales.

It would also be able to offer short-term insurance for sovereign transactions with repayment terms of 180 days or less, and up to 360 days for capital goods.

Medium-term insurance, loan guarantees and loans were also available for sovereign transactions with terms up to five years, along with capital guarantees to help U.S. exporters or their suppliers obtain funds to produce or buy goods or services for export.

The bank would be able to provide long-term support for trade, provided there were financing arrangements to eliminate or externalize country risks, it said.

The first bank official said the aim was to create a level playing field for U.S. exporters trying to compete with foreign firms that were backed by export credit agencies.

"There has been a lot of interest expressed on the part of a lot of different U.S. companies who would like to be able to compete in the marketplace," he said.

Asked about continuing concerns over human rights in Myanmar, the first bank official said the bank had taken into account the political and social environment, but "in the narrow context ... of repayment risk."

A senior U.S. official said the United States continued to engage the Myanmar government on events in the western Rakhine state, where the United Nations and rights groups have said that at least 40 minority Muslims were killed by security forces and majority Buddhist civilians in mid-January.

The United States said last month it was deeply disturbed by the reports, and the U.S. official said Washington had reiterated a call for a "credible and independent investigation".

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Stephen Powell)

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