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Massachusetts Myanmar trade law str

Subject: Massachusetts Myanmar trade law struck down

Massachusetts Myanmar trade law struck down
By Leslie Gevirtz

BOSTON (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court Tuesday struck down a Massachusetts
law that penalized companies doing business with Myanmar, the Southeast
Asian country ruled by the military, calling into question scores of other
measures enacted by states dealing with trade issues, lawyers said. 

In a 3-0 ruling, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston upheld a
lower court ruling that struck down the law last November, and went further
declaring the 1996 state measure infringed on the federal government's right
to make foreign policy, regulate foreign commerce and preempt state laws. 

The ruling puts at risk scores of trade laws passed by other states, such
those involving the MacBride Principles that govern business with Northern
Ireland, as well as the ``buy American'' statutes, said Massachusetts
Assistant Attorney General Thomas Barnico, who argued for the state law. 

Some 33 localities from Los Angeles to New York and Philadelphia to San
Francisco have laws that prohibit or limit trade with Myanmar, the country
formerly known as Burma, according to Frank Kittredge, head of the
Washington, D.C.-based National Foreign Trade Council. 

Kittredge's group brought the lawsuit claiming that some 324 of the
council's 580 business members were affected by the Massachusetts selective
purchase law. The law effectively barred firms that do business with Myanmar
from doing business with Massachusetts and its state agencies by adding 10
percent to any bids received from such companies. 

Massachusetts spends about $2 billion annually on goods and services from
the private sector. Myanmar imported roughly $2 billion worth of goods in
1996, the latest figures available. 

The Massachusetts law was enacted in response to the widespread repression
of Myanmar's democratic opposition by themilitary, which seized direct power
in 1988 after an upri widespread repression of Myanmar's democratic
opposition by themilitary, which seized direct power in 1988 after an upri
sing against years of army-backed socialism. 

Two years later, the military allowed a democratic election but ignored the
result when the party led by Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi won by a

U.S. Circuit Judge Sandra Lynch, who wrote the latest ruling, found that
federal law passed three months after the Massachusetts measure preempted

the state law and was a more ''careful calibration'' designed to ``improve
human rights conditions in Burma while safeguarding other national interest. 

``Massachusetts, in contrast has chosen a blunt instrument...'' Lynch wrote. 

The Massachusetts measure has been the subject of intense talks between
Washington, Japan and the European Union as well as the Association of
Southeast Asian Nations. The EU has filed a complaint with the World Trade
Organization, which was awaiting the decision by the U.S. Appeals Court. 

``If these judges had been on the bench in the 70s and 80s, Nelson Mandela
would still be in prison,'' said Rep. Byron Rushing, who wrote the
Massachusetts law that he modeled on earlier anti-apartheid measures. ``When
we passed this law, we didn't think we were pushing any envelopes. These
judges have created new law.'' 

Meanwhile, Massachusetts' Barnico said the attorney general's office ``was
considering an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.''