Three European Union officials have told the Reuters news agency that Brussels is considering trade sanctions on Myanmar over the Rohingya crisis.
“We are concerned about the impact on the population from our potential measures, but we cannot ignore a UN report describing the military campaign as genocide,” said one EU official of the debate within the European Commission, the EU executive responsible for the bloc’s trade policy.
The sanctions, under discussion at the European Commission, would include Myanmar’s lucrative textile industry and potentially put at risk thousands of jobs there but would not come into effect immediately, giving the EU leverage to stop what the West says is ethnic cleansing of Muslim Rohingya.
Even by triggering a six-month review process on whether to impose trade sanctions, which could be reversed if Myanmar met humanitarian and democratic targets, the bloc would mark a significant shift in policy.
According to Reuters, the impetus for the move was a UN report in August, which accused Myanmar’s military of carrying out killings of Rohingya with “genocidal intent”. That, and the rare US step of putting sanctions on two entire military units, have put an onus on the European Union to act, officials said.
Until now, the EU has imposed travel bans and asset freezes on several members of the Myanmar military.
“Removing this duty-free access is a measure of last resort, but we must act if other measures are not delivering,” said one EU official involved in the discussions.
“In light of the deteriorating situation on the ground, the Commission is currently assessing possible ways of escalating its political and economic response,” a Commission source told Reuters.