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Canada-Myanmar relations

Canada’s areas of action

Bilateral relationship

Canada-Myanmar relations date back to the early 20th century. Formal diplomatic relations were established following Myanmar’s accession to independence in 1948. However, relations became strained after the 1962 military coup and the decades of military rule that followed. Nevertheless, Canada remained involved throughout this period, in particular by offering humanitarian aid, most notably in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis in 2008.

In 2012, Canada eased its economic sanctions against Myanmar. Most prohibitions under the 2007 Special Economic Measures (Burma) Regulations were suspended, including most of those pertaining to exports, imports, financial services and investment.

However, Canada maintained sanctions against certain listed individuals and entities, which are still in place today. A trade embargo on arms and related material, as well as on related technical and financial assistance, also remains in place. For more information, refer to Canadian sanctions related to Myanmar.

In March 2013, Canada appointed its first-ever resident ambassador to Myanmar. By August 2014, the Embassy of Canada to Myanmar in Yangon officially opened. In August 2015, a visa application centre was opened in Yangon, making it possible for Myanmar citizens to apply for Canadian visas locally.

On November 8, 2015, the National League for Democracy, the party of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, won a decisive victory in Myanmar’s first largely free and fair general election in more than five decades. While the constitution, drafted under the former military regime, bars Ms. Suu Kyi from becoming president, she is the country’s de facto head of government. In addition to her nomination as state counsellor (a position akin to that of prime minister), she serves as minister of foreign affairs and minister of the President’s Office.

The peace process between the Government of Myanmar and the ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) is a key component of domestic politics in Myanmar. The objective of the peace process is to resolve the conflict between ethnic insurgency operations and the Government of Myanmar, including the military, through effective political dialogue and efforts to gradually integrate EAOs into the fold of federalism in Myanmar. Political dialogue between the government and EAOs began in 2011 as part of broader government reform efforts toward a transition to democracy.

The human rights situation in Myanmar remains of serious concern across the country, in particular the treatment of ethnic and religious minority groups. Most recently, a large proportion of the Rohingya population, an ethnic minority that has faced systematic persecution, has been forced to flee Myanmar because of a brutal security operation led by Myanmar’s security forces.

Rohingya crisis

Stemming from a spike in violence, including a significant security operation and “clearing exercise” by Myanmar’s armed forces, over 740,000 Rohingya refugees have fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh since August 2017. It is estimated that 600 000 Rohingya remain in Rakhine State.

This crisis has resulted in widespread and significant humanitarian needs in both Myanmar and Bangladesh. The Rohingya refugee population in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, now the largest refugee camp in the world, is highly vulnerable, having fled conflict and experienced severe trauma. Refugees are living in extremely difficult, congested conditions. The humanitarian situation in Rakhine state, and other conflict-affected regions of Myanmar, is also alarming.

In October 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed the Honourable Bob Rae as Special Envoy to Myanmar. In April 2018, Mr. Rae submitted his final report outlining 17 recommendations for Canadian action. In May 2018, Prime Minister Trudeau released Canada’s Strategy to respond to the Rohingya Crisis, informed by Mr. Rae’s report, and focused on:

  • alleviating the humanitarian crisis;
  • encouraging positive political developments in Myanmar;
  • ensuring accountability for the crimes committed; and,
  • enhancing international cooperation.

Canada’s strategy includes a commitment of $300 million of international assistance funding over three years to address humanitarian, development and peace and stabilization needs in Myanmar and Bangladesh.

In June 2018, Canada sanctioned seven individuals involved in the military operations launched in Rakhine state in August 2017. Canada has in place comprehensive sanctions related to Myanmar under the Special Economic Measures (Burma) Regulations, including an arms embargo and an asset freeze and dealings prohibition targeting both entities and individuals. Canada also sanctioned a high-ranking military official in February 2018 under the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act as a result of the significant role played by this military official in human rights violations against the Rohingya.

Canada continues to exercise its leadership in promoting international cooperation in response to the crisis in order to better coordinate assistance and align advocacy efforts. Canada will also support efforts at the UN and in other multilateral institutions to build political will and coordinate international efforts. Accountability has been a priority for Canada since the crisis began in August 2017, and Canada continues to play a leadership role in international efforts to end impunity in Myanmar. Canada has been a strong and vocal advocate in the UN to establish the Independent Investigative Mechanism (IIM) for Myanmar.

For more information please visit our page on Canada’s response to the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar and Bangladesh.

Development relationship

Canada’s bilateral development assistance program was launched in 2013. In 2017, the governments of Canada and Myanmar signed a memorandum of understanding to strengthen effective development assistance.

Aligned with Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy, Canada’s assistance in Myanmar puts women and girls at the centre of the efforts to help improve the human dignity, well-being, and rights for vulnerable and marginalized people. Overall, it aims to contribute to a future where diversity, inclusion, human rights and peace and security are respected.

Building on the recommendations of the final report of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, established by the Government of Myanmar in August 2016, and the recommendations from Canada’s Special Envoy to Myanmar, Canada has developed a coordinated strategy to respond to the Rohingya crisis that includes humanitarian and development assistance and peace and security initiatives, and diplomatic engagement.

Canada’s bilateral development assistance projects across Myanmar’s states and regions aim to:

  • advance sexual and reproductive health and rights and counter sexual and gender-based violence
  • promote women’s economic rights and leadership
  • understand federalism and promote inclusive governance and the protection of human rights
  • increase women’s and girls’ and civil society organizations’ participation in public decision-making and democratic processes
  • support the inclusion of women and marginalized groups in the peace process
  • prepare for climate change impacts
  • build capacity and information for evidence-based policy-making

Search the Project Browser to see what Canada is doing to support the human dignity, well-being and rights for vulnerable and marginalized people in Myanmar.

Federalism and the peace process

Canada strongly supports the national peace process in Myanmar and the negotiations between the Government of Myanmar and non-state ethnic armed groups to secure an inclusive and lasting peace following more than 70 years of civil war. Recognizing that establishing a federal system is a key element of the political dialogue in the peace process, Canada has taken a leading role in training on federalism.

Humanitarian assistance

Canada’s humanitarian assistance to Myanmar is provided on the basis of need and in line with humanitarian principles.

Canada’s gender-sensitive, life-saving humanitarian assistance to Rohingya refugees supports programming to improve the living conditions for refugees in camps and settlements, support host communities in Bangladesh to help mitigate the impact of the crisis and address the needs of displaced and other vulnerable populations in Myanmar. Since the beginning of 2017, Canada has provided more than $66.1 million to help address the needs of crises-affected people in Myanmar and Bangladesh.

Canada’s programming takes the impact of the crisis on the needs and rights of women and girls into consideration and supports programming that integrates those needs into multi-sectoral humanitarian programming. Examples of how Canada’s programming helps meet the needs of women and girls include:

  • psychosocial counselling services for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and other forms of trauma
  • prevention and medical treatment for survivors of SGBV
  • provision of sexual and reproductive health services, including support for family planning services, clean delivery kits and emergency obstetrics care
  • management of women and child-friendly spaces
  • promotion of international humanitarian law, including protection of civilians, in particular women and girls

This approach is closely aligned with Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy as well as the Whistler Declaration of Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women and Girls in Humanitarian Action.

Human rights and active citizenship

Protecting human rights and promoting good governance underpin all aspects of Canada’s engagement in Myanmar, and Canada has worked closely with local civil society champions to help bring about positive change. Canada has, for example, provided legal expertise to support national efforts to strengthen legislative protection for freedom of speech and public access to information. Canada has promoted high-profile human rights at documentary film festivals and has funded paralegal training for national LGBTQI organizations to help protect vulnerable community members. Canada has also trained grassroots leaders on the roles and responsibilities of local government so that they can advocate more effectively on behalf of their communities.

Trade relationship

Canada reinstated general preferential tariff and least-developed country tariff status for Myanmar in March 2015. Canadians and Canadian companies planning to conduct activities in Myanmar are encouraged to familiarize themselves with Canada’s remaining sanctions and restrictions. Following some positive developments in Myanmar in 2010, Canada eased its economic sanctions against Myanmar in 2012. Most prohibitions under the Special Economic Measures Act were suspended, including most of those pertaining to exports, imports, financial services and investment. However, Canada maintains sanctions against certain listed individuals and entities, which are still in place today. A trade embargo on arms and related material, as well as on related technical and financial assistance, also remains in place. In June 2018, the Special Economic Measures (Burma) Regulations were amended to add seven additional individuals. More information is also available at Canada’s economic sanctions against Myanmar.

Canada’s bilateral trade volume with Myanmar has grown in recent years but remains modest. In 2018, bilateral merchandise trade amounted to $165.9 million. Canadian merchandise imports from Myanmar reached $131.2 million, with exports valued at $34.7 million. Canada’s imports from Myanmar consisted largely of woven and knitted apparel, footwear, plastics, and textiles; while Canada's primary exports to Myanmar were paper products, cereals, plastics, and motor vehicles. The Myanmar economy is still largely agricultural, though the state-owned energy sector remains the largest source of export revenue. In recent years, there has been a noticeable increase in interest in certain emerging sectors in Myanmar, particularly in the information and communications technology, extractives, infrastructure, aerospace, and education sectors.

Operations

Capacity building

Canada engages with Myanmar on efforts to increase regional peace and security, including counterterrorism efforts and transnational organized crime. Canada funds partners, such as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and UN Women, to strengthen the capacity of law enforcement officials in Myanmar and in the region to respond to migrant smuggling and transnational organized crime, with particular attention to gender equality and human rights. Myanmar is currently Canada’s Country Coordinator for Dialogue Relations with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and helps facilitate Canada-ASEAN dialogue on key priorities for Canada and the region. Through Canada’s regional programming with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Myanmar also receives counterterrorism capacity-building support. Finally, Myanmar is eligible for the Canadian-ASEAN Scholarships and Educational Exchanges for Development (SEED) program, which provides short-term profession development to mid-career professionals from ASEAN countries.

Partners and organizations

To develop effective responses to today’s most pressing global challenges, Canada and Myanmar work closely in multilateral fora, such as:

 

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