WASHINGTON - The U.S. Export-Import Bank on Thursday began to offer credit for trade with Myanmar, hoping to support businesses against competitors in a market that has boomed since democratic reforms.
The decision sends "a strong signal that we are committed to strengthening economic ties with Burma as the nation continues its transition," Export-Import Bank president and board chairman Fred Hochberg said in a statement, using Myanmar's former name.
Officials said they hoped to boost U.S. exports and jobs by providing similar terms as credit agencies from European and Asian nations, whose governments have gone even further in ending barriers to trade with the once pariah state.
"Hopefully with this announcement, we can level the playing field and we can compete on the basis of price and quality, not terms," said an official from the Export-Import Bank, who requested anonymity in line with agency policy.
Effective immediately, U.S. exporters can turn to the Export-Import Bank to seek credit insurance on their products, direct loans or loan guarantees.
Myanmar has undertaken sweeping reforms since former general Thein Sein became president in 2011, with the release of political prisoners, easing of censorship and a revamp of an antiquated exchange rate system.
U.S. President Barack Obama's administration has heralded Myanmar's changes as a success for diplomatic outreach, but critics say America has overlooked human rights violations.
Several outbreaks of inter-communal violence between Buddhist and Muslim communities in Rakhine state since 2012 have left scores of people dead and about 140,000 displaced, mainly from the Rohingya minority.
Another official said that the United States was raising concerns over Rakhine state but believed that Myanmar was overall "changing in a positive way."
The Export-Import Bank's decision "is very much a reflection of Burma's creditworthiness, and it's not connected to any particular event," she said.
Foreign investors have been flocking to Myanmar, which has a large untapped consumer market, ample natural resources including gas and oil, and a strategic location bordering China and India.
The Export-Import Bank is no stranger to the country. One of its first projects after its creation in 1934 was to provide $22 million to build the Burma Road to supply China during its war with Japan.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2014