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Archive for the ‘News’ Category

6th May 2014

In recent articles in the Financial Times the argument has be made that the Peoples’ Republic of China will economically overtake the United States of America in the year 2014. It  should be noted that Chinese economic outpacing of the United States is only measured in terms of statistical purchasing power and little more. In any event, this revealation is significant as it shows the increasing dominance of China in the world economy. The authors of the two articles (which can be found on the Financial Times official website here and here) appear to disagree as to the importance of these developments. The  author of the first article seems rather alarmist about the fact that China will overtake the USA in statistical purchasing power while the second author notes that this should not be viewed as China overtaking the USA in all facets of comparative economics. Furthermore, the second article notes that the United States still remains politically the most powerful nation in the world despite the fact that the world is evolving from a state of unipolarity with the United States as the lone Superpower able to effectively and virtually unilaterally project its power throughout the world, to a state of multipolarity in which many nations have increasing regional (or even global) dominance in certain spheres of economics as well as politics.

The notion that the world is moving toward a state of multipolarity leads this blogger to posit: how will the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) fit into the framework of a multipolar world? It seems reasonable to infer that ASEAN will become an increasingly important economic bloc following the integration of the various member states’ economies under the framework of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) which is set to take effect on January 1, 2015. The creation of a single economic platform which will include approximately 400-500 million people, some of the fastest growing economies in the world, and some of the most strategically important geographical locations will likely lead to greater economies of scale for businesses in the region, a larger market for goods and services for the member states, and greater leverage to trade with countries outside of the bloc. However, these issues are not entirely pertinent to the question posited above. The differences between China and an integrated ASEAN economic platform will be substantial. First, some members of ASEAN rank amongst some of the largest economies in the world, in their own right. Meanwhile other economies within the region are still developing. This could lead to a “best of both worlds” scenario for ASEAN, China, and the USA. Case in point, Thailand has seen difficulties in recent years competing with cheaper Chinese labor, but the movements of labor and capital which will come hand-in-hand with ASEAN economic integration could lead to a situation where Thai companies could utilize labor pools in developing ASEAN member countries to offset the low cost of Chinese labor and thereby mitigate previous competitive disadvantages. Furthermore, the United States may find new markets for US goods in an integrated ASEAN and new venues for the manufacture of low cost goods in developing ASEAN nations that would allow for some economic de-coupling from China by the USA, thereby allowing the United States a freer hand in making foreign policy decisions vis-a-vis China. Finally, China stands to gain due to the increase in trade between China and the ASEAN nations which has recently been evidenced by the evolving nature of the geography of the Chinese economy. In recent years, increasing economic activity has been noted in Southern China across the border from Laos, which acts as a kind of entrepot for trade between China and Thailand as well as the Greater ASEAN community. Recent discussions of a high speed rail link connecting China, Laos and Thailand have also been cause for optimism that one day this region could play host to a booming economy which will bring large numbers of people out of poverty and create wealth for the peoples of all nations concerned.

Following ASEAN economic integration, there are likely to be myriad legal challenges for those businesses in ASEAN nations and abroad wishing to gain a foothold in this burgeoning market. The legal challenges posed will likely require the assistance of legal professionals in the region familiar with new ASEAN regulations as well as the internal regulatory frameworks of the various member states.

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23rd April 2014

It recently came to this blogger’s attention that the President of the United States is set to visit Japan in order to begin a multi-nation trip around North and Southeast Asia. Currently on the itinerary are South Korea, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Apparently, the trip is being undertaken in an effort to strengthen ties with those nations and to further showcase the administration’s commitment to the “pivot” policy whereby the United States will further concentrate upon ties with the nations of the Asia-Pacific region.

It is interesting to note that this recent trip comes during a time where there are perceived to be increasing tensions between the United States and the Peoples’ Republic of China. Moreover, recent Chinese claims to territories in the Eastern and South China seas have caused further tensions between China, Japan, Singapore, Vietnam, and Malaysia (to name only a few). The issues surrounding dealings with China, which is one of the United States’ largest trading partners as well as a competitor for influence in the Asia-Pacific region, are likely to be at the forefront of discussions between the American President and his counterparts in the various countries to be visited. As economic growth in Southeast Asia continues, it stands to reason that building long-lasting economic ties with the region is a substantial concern. Meanwhile, smaller Asian nations may seek support from the United States in an effort to counter what some view as an overly expansionist China. All of these issues arise at a time when the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is preparing for further economic integration in the form of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) which is set to come into effect in 2015. How ASEAN integration, Chinese expansion (both militarily and economically), and American foreign policy will interact in the months and years ahead remains to be seen, but clearly Southeast Asia remains at the forefront of geopolitics.

With respect to the Kingdom of Thailand, it appears that Thai officials are preparing for ASEAN economic integration by encouraging the creation of an ASEAN trading hub in Southern Thailand. As Hat Yai is currently a significant trading center in the Southern region of Thailand and boasts of an international airport along with multi-cultural demographics it is a logical location to capitalize upon ASEAN economic integration which would result in significant benefits for Thailand domestically as well as Malaysia and ASEAN as a whole. The economic benefits which could arise from ASEAN economic integration are virtually limitless and perhaps one day the ASEAN trading bloc could be as economically dominant as the economies of the USA and China.

 

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28th February 2014

As of the time of this writing, the “Shutdown Bangkok” campaign is scheduled to end on Monday, March 3rd. However, from initial reports it is not clear whether the movement will be fully dissolved in all locations. Apparently, leaders of the movement have scheduled an end to the blocking of key intersections throughout the city while consolidating the movement’s location at Lumpini Park. Meanwhile, it remains unclear whether the protest site at Chaeng Wattana will be closed as well.

Apparently, this decision was made as a result of concerns that the protest has had a dampening effect upon the Thai economy. As protests intensified many people from all sectors of the Thai business community raised concerns that the situation was causing losses in the tourism industry as well as possibly leading to decreases in future foreign direct investment.

The recent news will likely come as a welcome surprise to the Thai business community especially the tourism sector as it could be a portent of a future lasting compromise leading to a maintenance of stability in the country. Those living and working in Bangkok will likely also be glad to hear of the reopening of major intersections since doing so will undoubtedly lead to less traffic congestion in the city.

Hopefully, this announcement will encourage foreign governments around the world to lift their travel warnings and travel bans regarding Thailand. As a consequence, tourists will return to Thailand on a scale that is relatively commiserate with tourism numbers prior to the outset of protesting.

Notwithstanding recent political tension there are many who feel as though Thailand still represents one of the top tourism destinations in the world. Furthermore, Thailand is also considered a prime destination for foreign direct investment as the Kingdom remains one of the strongest economies in Southeast Asia. Couple this with the fact that as of January 2015 the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) will come into being creating a wide range of business opportunities in Thailand and throughout the region, and there is good reason to believe that Thailand will remain strong economically. Should the AEC also herald the coming of a single unified ASEAN visa scheme Thailand as well as the rest of Southeast Asia could see an increase in the numbers of both business and leisure travelers. Only time will tell how all of these developments will play out, but cautious optimism is apparently called for under the present circumstances.

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12th January 2014

During the early morning hours on Monday January 13th in Bangkok protestors calling for the resignation of the current Thai government commenced their “Operation: Bangkok Shutdown”. It appears from initial reports that 7 key intersections in Bangkok have been blocked including areas near government facilities. Protest leaders have noted their intention to continue the shutdown until the end of January. Should their demands be met, the shutdown may end sooner. The administration of this blog will not comment upon the politics behind these recent developments (leaving that task to news sites and political commentators). However, it is important to note that this situation will likely cause delays in government services, especially those sought in the Bangkok Metropolitan area.

The Thai government has taken measures to deal with the inconvenience this situation may cause. Most notable to foreign nationals in Bangkok was the recent announcement that provisional immigration offices have been established to deal with visa matters for foreign nationals unable to travel to the usual immigration offices located in facilities which are likely to be blocked by the protestors. The Office of the Royal Thai Immigration Police made the following announcement:

ADDITIONAL OFFICES DURING THE DEMONSTRATION SITUATION

Due to the demonstration, please be known that Immigration Services for all foreigners are also provided at ::

1. Immigration Service Center for 3 national Legalized Labors, Major Hollywood Suksawat, 1st Floor,
Suksawat Road, Ratburana, Bangkok.
2. Immigration Service Center for 3 national Legalized Labors, Imperial World Ladprao, 5th Floor,
Ladprao Road, Wang Tong Lang, Bangkok.

This temporary service will be started from January 13rd, 2014 until the better situation. We apologize for inconvenience.

Many foreign nationals remain in the Kingdom of Thailand on long term visas such as business visas, retirement visas, and marriage visas. Those present in the country for periods longer than 90 days are required to check in with immigration officials. Therefore, the current situation could adversely impact those wishing to travel to immigration offices for their quarterly “90 day check-in”. Furthermore, foreign business owners in Bangkok are likely to have issues not only in procuring government services, but also with logistics as a result of the demonstrations.

Hopefully, the situation in Bangkok will be resolved quickly and peacefully. In the meantime, it may be necessary to schedule extra time when traveling throughout the city and foreign nationals are encouraged to stay away from protest areas. The administration of this blog will continue to post updates regarding this situation as developments evolve.

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15th October 2013

At a recent summit held to discuss relations between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) the Prime Minister of Thailand stressed the importance of the ASEAN-China Strategic Partnership as a component necessary to bolster mutual prosperity in both China and the ASEAN region. Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra noted that ASEAN approved of China’s efforts to improve the ASEAN-China Free Trade Area. Upgrading the free trade area would likely result in an increase in Sino-ASEAN trade.

Based upon information announced by the ASEAN Secretariat, in the year 2014 ASEAN appears poised to focus on quickly implementing targets for 2015. It also appears that ASEAN will be working towards unifying the community pillars of ASEAN, notably the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community, as well as the ASEAN Political-Security Community. Post-2015, ASEAN may undertake initiatives to reinforce these efforts while also attempting to further engage other outside actors in the Asia Pacific and East Asia regions.

A recent joint statement from the visiting Chinese Premier and the Thai Prime Minister also noted that efforts are being made to improve relations between the Kingdom of Thailand and the Peoples’ Republic of China. The two leaders expressed their desire to see closer cooperation between their two nations in the form of investment in industry (with specific emphasis upon investment in the bio-plastics, green, and rubber industries).

Thailand and China renewed their commitment to promoting improved transportation infrastructure in the form of railway links between Thailand, Laos, and China. The two countries also discussed improved transportation channels in the form of roads, airports, and ports which could increase trade and tourism for both Thailand specifically and the region as a whole. The Chinese representatives reiterated their desire to assist in the building of a high speed railway system between Ban Phachi and Nong Khai, noting that payment for such endeavors may come, at least in part, in the form of agricultural goods.

The two countries also wish to strengthen cooperative efforts in the banking and financial spheres by promoting the use of the two nations’ currencies in matters involving Sino-Thai trade and investment. It also appears that the two countries are poised to discuss methods of improving RMB clearing services in matters pertaining to trade.

Most notably, at least for this blogger, was the announcement that China as well as Thailand are amenable to discussing, and possibly signing, a Memorandum of Understanding on exemption of visas. Apparently, a prospective Sino-Thai visa exemption scheme would allow holders of regular Thai and Chinese passports to enter each of these countries on a visa exemption stamp not unlike the current visa exemption stamps currently issued to travelers from many countries entering Thailand. The promulgation of a visa exemption scheme between China and Thailand could lead to increases in trade and tourism between the two nations.

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7th October 2013

China’s Premier, Li Keqiang is set to make an official trip to Thailand between the 11th and 13th of  this month. The Premier will be present in the Kingdom of Thailand as a guest of the Royal Thai Government. This visit will be the first time the Premier of China has visited Thailand since taking up office. During his stay the Premier is slated to meet with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in an effort to seek methods of improving the Thailand-China Comprehensive Strategic Cooperative Partnership through mutually beneficial cooperative endeavors.

Apparently, the official representatives of the Peoples’ Republic of China and the Kingdom of Thailand are also poised to sign various agreements exclusively pertaining to the Sino-Thai relationship. These agreements will deal with matters such as investment between the two nations, development of infrastructure, technology, education, and energy to name just a few areas which will be covered. As of the time of this writing, Thailand is the coordinator for relations between the Peoples’ Republic of China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and in that capacity it appears likely that the Thai PM and the Chinese Premier will discuss matters relating to the ASEAN-China Strategic Partnership.

Meanwhile, in related news Transport Minister Chadchart Sittipunt has recently made comments regarding the linkage of the Kingdom of Thailand, Laos, and China via high speed rail systems as well as other transportation initiatives under the aegis of the Thailand 2020 program. It would appear that plans are being implemented to construct a high speed railroad linking Bangkok to Nong Khai, the Northeastern Thai province bordering Viantiane, Laos. Construction of such a railway is expected to begin in the latter half of 2014. Upon completion of the project travelers will be able to make the trip between Bangkok and Nong Khai in approximately 3 hours. The system will then link up with Yunnan, China via Laos. Furthermore, enhanced roadworks are expected to be constructed, including new four-lane roadways, in order to streamline transportation both within Thailand as well as in Laos and China.

Clearly, these efforts are likely to fundamentally change the landscape of Northern Thailand both physically and economically. The linking of Northern Thailand, Laos, and Southern China will have a significant impact upon the economies of all three jurisdictions while simultaneously changing the way in which business is currently being conducted in this region. These developments are occurring as the ASEAN countries prepare for the coming integration of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) and it stands to reason that further cooperation between Thailand and China bilaterally and China and ASEAN multilaterally will see economic benefits not only for Thailand, but for the other ASEAN jurisdictions as well.

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1st October 2013

The United States government has recently shut down due to the inability of Congress to make a deal regarding the budget and current debt ceiling level. The reverberations from this recent turn of events will likely be felt in many sectors of the United States government and by those who may have business with the US government. As a general matter, governmental functions which are deemed essential will still be available. However, those governmental activities and employees deemed non-essential will likely be discontinued and work furloughed until such time as Congress reaches an agreement. It has been 17 years since the United States government last shut down. As of the time of this writing, the Office of Management and Budget has instructed supervisors of various governmental entities to “execute plans for an orderly shutdown.”

What is the practical impact of the government’s closure upon the immigration process? It recently came to this blogger’s attention that the following has been posted on the official website of the United States Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand:

The U.S. Embassy in Bangkok and Consulate General Chiang Mai remain open to the public. As always, our priorities remain providing safety, security, and service to U.S. citizens. We are open for all consular services, including visa processing.

It could be inferred that the Embassy is attempting to dispel rumors that a shutdown will negatively impact the processing of US visa applications as well as applications for US passports, Consular Reports of Birth Abroad (CRBA), and various notarial services requested by Americans living in Thailand. Hopefully, the recently announced government shutdown will not last long and thus not cause any great problems for those seeking visas to the United States of America. However, a protracted shutdown could mean that processing of US visa applications could move at a slower pace, or, in a worst case scenario, be discontinued until such time as a budget is agreed upon. Hopefully, this will not happen and the processing of applications will continue apace.

Meanwhile, it is likely that the shutdown will not affect processing of immigration petitions at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). As USCIS is funded by the fees paid by petitioners, it seems likely that a government shutdown will not adversely impact those seeking immigration benefits from USCIS. Again, as the United States has not seen a government shutdown in nearly two decades some of the details about the impact of the current shutdown remain somewhat speculative. Readers of this blog should take note that further information will be provided herein as it becomes available.

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30th September 2013

Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul in conjunction with his ASEAN counterparts as well as US Secretary of State John Kerry discussed the American relationship with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) at the Informal ASEAN-US Foreign Ministers’ Meeting. The informal Ministers’ Meeting was conducted while the 68th Session of the United Nations General Assembly was held in New York City, the Thai Government Public Relations Office reported.

The Thai Foreign Minister noted his approval of efforts being made in the United States to encourage green energy initiatives as such programs could prove beneficial in the Southeast Asia region especially as climate change becomes an increasingly important concern. The Foreign Minister also appears to have commented positively regarding American efforts with respect to Syria citing his desire to see a political solution to those issues being promulgated through a forthcoming United Nations Security Council resolution. It should be noted that, Thailand has officially stated its intention to seek a non-permanent seat on an upcoming UN Security Council. Meanwhile, The Foreign Minister also pointed out the significant positive impact that the United States has on the ASEAN region as cooperative efforts between the United States and the jurisdictions which comprise ASEAN have resulted in greater security and economic gains for all parties concerned.

The US-ASEAN Expanded Economic Engagement Initiative was cited as a particularly encouraging development which could result in further trade and foreign investment for the ASEAN region. The Lower Mekong Initiative was also noted as a program which has improved the region academically, agriculturally, and environmentally. The Foreign Minister also urged the United States to assist in improving regional law enforcement capabilities by further mutual cooperation and increased training. One method of increasing training capability would be through establishment of a series of International Law Enforcement Academies

Further US-ASEAN cooperation could also lead to better security for the Southeast Asia region. The Foreign Minister noted that further ASEAN-US cooperation in the realm of cyber security may assist in inoculating the region from dangers arising in cyber space. The Foreign Minister also expressed his desire to see the United States continue its support for ASEAN’s endeavor to see an expeditious completion of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.

Relations between the United States and ASEAN have become of recent interest to many who follow foreign policy issues. As ASEAN’s eventual economic integration draws nearer the United States seems to acutely realize that there is a strong prospect of future benefits which may be derived from substantial ties to the region.

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30th August 2013

In a recent article from The Telegraph author Ambrose Evans-Pritchard analyzed how Federal Reserve policies impact emerging markets. It is a very interesting article for anyone (especially expatriates living abroad) interested in understanding how Fed policy reverberates in markets outside of the United States. Of particular interest to expats living overseas was the analysis of the disproportionate impact Fed policy has on foreign nationals residing in other countries. Although the aforementioned article would seem primarily targeted  at a British audience, as an American expatriate living in the Kingdom of Thailand, I found this information compelling. Evans-Pritchard cited an assertion from Mirza Baig of BNP Paribas noting that foreign nationals bear significant currency risks in some of the nations in Southeast Asia. In Thailand, it appears that foreigners bear currency risks of 81%, while those expatriates living in Malaysia and India bear 90% and 74% risk, respectively. I have  dealt with the vicissitudes of currency fluctuation many times during my tenure in Thailand as the exchange rate between the Thai Baht and the US Dollar was around 39-1 when I first arrived in the Kingdom. Since then, I have seen the exchange rate fall (or rise depending upon your perspective) to around 27-1 and re-stabilize around 30-1. As of the time of this writing, the Baht-Dollar exchange rate stands at approximately 31-1. However, many are speculating that the Baht will lose value against the dollar in the coming months. This would likely be due to the perception that the Fed may begin to implement a kind of belt tightening after years of promoting liquidity.

Unlike times past, the actions of the Fed have increasingly serious implications in emerging markets. As the article noted, in the past when the Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker tightened up his belt, there were substantial ramifications in South America and elsewhere. The negative aspects of those policies on South American economies was containable. However, this was at a time when China was virtually isolated, and the Soviet Union did not really factor into the any analysis of the economic interactions between countries in the “Free World”. Meanwhile in the 1990′s Federal Reserve policies could negatively impact global economics more than before that period, such negative implications were still containable since there was a “power ratio” of around 1:2 between the United States economy and the emerging markets. This is no longer the case as the relationship has basically equalized. Should Fed policies have a substantial negative impact on the emerging markets, then the problem may not be contained within those markets and the economic problems could easily (and quickly, if there is anything to be learned from the financial crashes of the past decade) spill over into Western Europe and America.

In American politics, one cannot read articles and information regarding the United States’ stance on Southeast Asia without seeing the words “pivot”. The Obama administration has consistently noted that the U.S. wishes to see American foreign policy “pivot” to a more solid relationship with the nations in the Asia-Pacific region and those comprising the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). In fact the P-word has been cited in connection to the visit to Southeast Asia by the American Secretary of Defense. However, in light of recent events in the economic sphere it would appear that ASEAN countries and Thailand specifically may be “pivoting” themselves. For example, at the recent meeting between the Foreign Ministers of ASEAN and the Foreign Minister of China it was noted that Sino-ASEAN trade increased five times compared to ten years ago. As of 2012, trade between China and ASEAN stood at approximately $400 billion. Clearly, China is becoming an increasingly important trading partner and in light of the fact that ASEAN and Thailand may not wish to be at the mercy of the Fed’s whims, further solidifying this relationship may prove to be an effective method for ASEAN nations to mitigate negative side effects caused by economic policies of both China and the United States.

In a recent interview, the Prime Minister of Thailand, Yingluck Shinawatra, articulated a desire to see further investment in Thailand from China and supported such an investment due to Thailand’s position as the “strategic center” of ASEAN. “Thailand will be spending about 66 billion U.S. dollars in infrastructure. Especially, we will need the technology that China has, like high speed train,” Mrs. Yingluck stated. “And we know that the high-speed railway connecting Thailand and China will run from Thailand through Laos to China. So it will be an important part of Chinese investment in Thailand”. As the deadline for ASEAN integration comes ever closer it seems logical to assume that Thailand, the ASEAN jurisdictions, and China will all see a closer economic relationship begin to blossom. How this relationship will impact both diplomatic and trade relations with the United States remains to be seen, but American economic policy makers should be aware that the era of America being able to set economic and monetary policy with little thought to the implications in emerging Asian markets has passed.

 

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22nd August 2013

In what could be described as a watershed moment for United States-Myanmar relations, these two countries held their first joint human trafficking discussions officially dubbed the U.S.-Myanmar Trafficking in Persons dialogue. The discussions were held on August 1, 2013 in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar. Myanmar Police Chief Major General Zaw Win and United States Ambassador-at-Large for the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons Luis CdeBaca headed the Myanmar and United States’ delegations. These events were reported in an August 19th Press Release from the American State Department. To quote from the recent State Department Press Release:

In-depth discussions covered a variety of human trafficking issues, including forced labor, sex trafficking, and the unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers, with particular focus on the importance of employing a victim-centered approach to combating human trafficking, the need to show concrete results in holding to account perpetrators of all forms of trafficking, and the benefits of robust government-civil society partnerships. Both governments agreed the dialogue was very productive and pledged their continued commitment to enhanced cooperation in addressing this serious crime and human rights issue under the auspices of the United States-Myanmar Joint Plan on Trafficking in Persons.

Human trafficking is a serious issue to American policymakers as well as their counterparts in the various nations which comprise the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Many of the ASEAN members states (Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam) have struggled with human trafficking and have promulgated policies to thwart would-be traffickers and provide assistance to the victims of this insidious international scourge. It is promising to see the United States engaging Myanmar on this issue as recent history has seen Myanmar maintaining a rather aloof stance towards both the United  States and the international community as a whole. Hopefully, this recent meeting will garner further cooperation between the United States and the Union of Myanmar on this issue as the eradication of human trafficking would prove to be not only a benefit to the people of each of these countries, but also to the region and the world. It could be argued that by engaging Myanmar in a discussion of this issue the United States is not only highlighting Myanmar’s importance geopolitically, but also that country’s potential to curtail human trafficking on a regional scale. Should this meeting result in any decrease (whether large or small) in human trafficking, then this initial dialogue must be viewed as a success. Hopefully the day will come when human trafficking is no longer the problem that it is at this time.

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