BRUSSELS, July 18 (UPI) -- Opening up trade relations with Myanmar will "make a huge difference" in the country's economic development, an EU trade official said Thursday.
The European Union said Myanmar will gain duty-free and quota-free access to the European market under the terms of its so-called Everything But Arms trade regime starting Friday.
"This has the potential to make a huge difference to the country's economic development and to bring real benefits to the people there," European Union Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht said in a statement. "The EU is also going to help Myanmar boost the capacity of both public and private firms to make use of these new opportunities."
Western governments have rewarded Myanmar for democratic reforms by easing sanctions imposed for a poor political and human rights record. Revenue Watch Institute gave Myanmar its lowest rank in its latest report on transparency in the extractive industries, however, and EarthRights International said it's been able to document how activity in Myanmar's extractive industries is tied to serious human rights abuses.
The EU suspended trade preferences for Myanmar in 1997. By 2012, however, the country's exports to the EU were valued at $215 million, or about 3 percent of its total global exports.