RANGOON — Burma’s total trade volume has declined in value for the first time since the switch to quasi-civilian rule, largely a result of the long and seemingly inexorable slide of the local currency.
For the first eight months of the 2015-16 fiscal year, from April to November, total imports were valued at US$9.8 billion and total exports were $7.2 billion. The figures mark a slight decline against the same period in 2014 imports were $10.1 billion while exports were $7.3 billion, according to the ministry.
The kyat has declined significantly against the greenback since November 2014, losing 26 percent of its value in the past 12 months, and is currently trading at around 1300 to the US dollar. The figures suggest a rise in total trade volume of between 10 and 17 percent on the previous year’s figures, even as headline revenues declined.
Win Myint, director of the Commerce Ministry’s Department of Trade Promotion, said much of the shortfall was explained by a decline in jade sales to overseas buyers over the current fiscal year.
“Total jade export volume is significantly down,” said Win Myint, “Among imported items, cooking oil, diesel and other petroleum products have also declined.”
A total of $820 million in total jade exports were reported in the current fiscal year to the end of November, a decline from $1.1 billion for the same period last year. Taking into account the kyat’s depreciation, the ministry’s figures suggest a drop in jade export volume of at least 25 percent.
Much of Burma’s jade trade takes place in the black market, outside of the government’s official jade emporiums and away from the ministry’s purview. A Global Witness report into the industry, released last month, alleged that members of the former military junta, tycoons connected with the previous regime and military-owned conglomerates had profited handsomely, with total industry revenues as high as $31 billion dollars in 2014.
Despite massive flooding across the country in July and August, export values held firm over the year, despite a decline in agricultural export volumes. A temporary export halt for rice lasted for more than two months in the wake of the flooding crisis, while other agricultural goods saw an export decline across the board.
Hnin Oo, senior vice president of the Myanmar Fisheries Federation and fisheries exporter, told The Irrawaddy that despite the narrowing of the trade deficit over the current fiscal year, he expected the gulf between import and export values to grow wider before the end of March.
“Business leaders are still waiting to see what happens when the next government takes office,” he said. “The next government will have to make a strategic plan for promoting export items, or the deficit will get larger.”
He added that local manufacturers in small and medium enterprises were still suffering from structural problems arising from lack of access to finance, lack of infrastructure, and issues with government policies.
Import volume of electronics, agricultural equipment, automobiles and other manufactured goods rose over the current fiscal year, to a total value of $4.6 billion against $4.1 billion for the same period in 2014.
Despite the local currency decline, the government is forecasting total trade volume to rise to $29 billion by the end of this fiscal year, up from $28 billion in 2014-15.