By Brecken Branstrator
Washington, D.C.--The White House officially has lifted the sanctions against Myanmar (formerly Burma) that blocked rubies and jade from being imported to the United States for nearly a decade.

President Barack Obama signed an executive order on Oct. 7, in which he stated that the state of emergency declared against the country in 2008 was terminated due to Myanmar’s “substantial advances to promote democracy,” including elections held last November that led to the National League for Democracy winning a majority of seats in parliament and a “greater enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

This ended all the remaining economic and financial sanctions against Myanmar, which still included the import of rubies and jade as part of the Tom Lantos Block Burmese JADE Act of 2008.

Though the act expired in 2013, eliminating almost all the sanctions against the country, Obama signed an executive order reinstating the prohibition on the importation of any jade or rubies mined or extracted from Myanmar or any articles of jewelry containing them.

The order comes less than a month after Obama met with Myanmar State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to discuss the country’s change and development over the past five years, indicating at the time that he would remove the sanctions, and right as U.S. jewelry industry leaders traveled to the country to discuss bilateral trade between the two countries.

The group was led by American Gem Trade Association CEO Doug Hucker and President Jeff Bilgore, Jewelers of America President and CEO David Bonaparte, and the Gemological Institute of America’s Jim Shigley. Also on the trip was Timothy Haake of Haake/Fetzer, senior counsel to JA, and a representative from the Inle Advisory Group, a Myanmar-focused business consulting group.

This is the first meeting in Myanmar for representatives of the U.S. jewelry trade since Obama announced last month that he would lift the remaining sanctions, and was meant to re-establish direct lines of commerce between Myanmar and the U.S.

“Our goal in coming here is to demonstrate that the gem sector in Myanmar is as worthy as any in the world, and that responsible commerce can only help all of us improve and make democracy stronger,” Bilgore said.

Bonaparte added, “We are here to share with the people of Myanmar what our U.S. trade associations do to ensure product integrity, increase consumer confidence, and maintain responsible supply chains.”

The discussions on developing guidelines to include the highest levels of social, environmental and economic business practices come at a critical time for the Myanmar mining sector, where struggles, especially in the jade industry, remain.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation in Myanmar announced in July that for the time being, it would not renew mining permits after they expire, opting instead to focus on changes to the rules and regulations to create a safer environment for its workers.

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