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An Early Assessment of Foreign Aid to Myanmar

In the past two years, Myanmar has undergone a remarkable transformation: an unanticipated shift from military to quasi-civilian governance, the election of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to the legislature, steps toward peace with ethnic minorities, and economic reforms designed to alleviate poverty. These developments prompted Western countries to suspend or lift wide-ranging political and economic sanctions, which were responses to the regime’s suppression of the democratic opposition and dismal human rights record after 1988. As sanctions were withdrawn, aid agencies and international NGOs rushed to Myanmar to support the Thein Sein government’s reform agenda. The interest in Myanmar among the donor community and the level of aid activity are extremely high, leading some observers to question whether Myanmar is receiving too much attention from the foreign aid community.

On March 14, Global Economy and Development at Brookings hosted a discussion on foreign aid to the new government of Myanmar. Brookings Nonresident Senior Fellow Lex Rieffel and former USAID Senior Economist James W. Fox presented their new report, “Too Much, Too Soon? The Dilemma of Foreign Aid to Myanmar/Burma,” which was published by Nathan Associates. Discussion about the report and broader issues followed the presentation and included: Joseph Yun, acting assistant secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, and David Steinberg, distinguished professor in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. Alex Shakow, former USAID assistant administrator for policy and program coordination and former executive secretary of the IMF-World Bank Development Committee, moderated the discussion.


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