by Feng Yingqiu
YANGON, April 21 (Xinhua) -- Foreign ministers of the European Union (EU) are due to meet in Luxembourg on Monday to make a decision to withdraw all sanctions against Myanmar, exactly a year after the regional grouping announced suspension of most sanctions against the country for a year except arms embargo.
EU's expected total lifting of all sanctions against Myanmar in recognition of its significant reform process would boost EU's investment in the country and further promote Myanmar-EU relations.
In March this year, Myanmar President U Thein Sein paid an 11- day goodwill visit to the five European countries of Norway, Finland, Austria, Belgium and Italy. The milestone trip has brought about enhancement of bilateral ties with the EU countries.
Meeting with Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg during his European trip, U Thein Sein thanked Norway for its support in Myanmar's democratic transition, acknowledging Norway's role in discussions with Paris Club member countries for lifting sanctions and resumption of low-interest loan by the World Bank and other international monetary institutions.
He proposed further cooperation for political reform, peace building, economic reform and environmental conservation.
The Norwegian Prime Minister pledged continued support for Myanmar's democratic transition, economic reform, peace process and improved diplomatic ties.
U Thein Sein invited Norwegian companies to invest in Myanmar's energy and information and technology sectors.
During his journey to Finland, U Thein Sein told his Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinisto in Helsinki that Myanmar's democratic reform could not be delayed nor reversed as it picks up momentum.
Niinisto expressed readiness to help Myanmar's political and economic reform, peace making process, establishment of good governance, rule of law and human resources development, pledging a grant of 6.5 million euro to Myanmar in 2014 after Finland, which is a Paris Club member, had already written off 50 percent of debt Myanmar owed.
U Thein Sein expressed Myanmar's desire to cooperate with Finland as a partner country in its bid for developments and join freight handling and environmental conservation in its plan of building three deep seaports.
In his trip to Austria, U Thein Sein also invited Austrian investment in Myanmar at the Myanmar-Austria Economic Forum.
In his tour to Belgium, U Thein Sein mainly asked for the lift of all economic sanctions and restoration of GSP (Generalized System of Preferences) for Myanmar and extension of humanitarian assistance to the country's troubled Kachin and Rakhine states, while pledging to work towards a new and more inclusive Myanmar.
In his tour to Italy, U Thein Sein was told that the Italian side had agreed to lift overall EU sanctions against Myanmar and resume access for Myanmar exporters to GSP.
The two sides signed an agreement on the Treatment ( Cancellation and Rescheduling) of the Debt and an agreement on Debt for Development Swap.
Relations between Myanmar and the European Union improved following the visit of President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso and the successive opening of embassies in Myanmar of three European countries -- Switzerland, Norway and Denmark in November 2012.
Myanmar and the EU signed a joint declaration on offering development assistance to Myanmar and EU's support to its peace process.
Opening a new chapter in bilateral relations, Myanmar is set to benefit from a preferential trade arrangement with the EU following recognition by the international community of the country's recent democratic and economic reforms.
EU foreign ministers first announced in Luxembourg on April 23, 2012 suspension of most sanctions against Myanmar for a year except arms embargo.
Subsequently, EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton visited Myanmar later in the month, opened EU representative office in Yangon and brought a package of up to 150 million euro in agricultural development aid.
The European Commission in September 2012 adopted a proposal to bring Myanmar back under a preferential trade regime granting duty- free and quota-free access to the European market, beginning in 2013.
EU's investment in Myanmar from Britain, France, the Netherlands, Austria, Germany, Denmark and Cyprus amounted to about 3.618 billion U.S. dollars as of the end of 2012, according to Myanmar official statistics.