Despite Industry Woes, Jade ‘Still Flowing’ at Annual Emporium

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 10 December 2015

RANGOON — The number of jade lots on display at this year’s gems emporium for local traders dipped slightly compared with 2014’s showcase, with supply showing some decline but overall resilience in a year that saw the industry subjected to a spate of criticism over the ethnics and safety of the trade.

The jade sale in Naypyidaw, exclusively for Burmese nationals, is being held from Dec. 7-13, with more than 200 traders bidding to buy jade and gems lots over the course of the week.

In the jade sale, 6,826 lots are on display and the first 1,000 were put up for auction on Thursday, according to Min Thu, assistant director of the Myanmar Gems Enterprise, under the Ministry of Mines.

At the last emporium exclusively for local traders, in October 2014, the Myanmar Gems Enterprise and private enterprises offered 6,982 jade lots and sold 5,988.

Tun Hla Aung, joint secretary of the Myanmar Gems and Jewelry Entrepreneurs Association, acknowledged that the jade market in 2015 was not as hot as previous years, but he insisted that the trade remained fundamentally strong.

“The market is just cooling, that’s why traders are fewer and also this is only for local traders, but I don’t think jade supply is getting low, many jade lots are still flowing in the market,” he said.

Jade supplies at emporiums in Burma are subject, to an extent, to unconventional market forces, such as conflict in or near Kachin State’s jade-rich Hpakant Township, and illicit flows of the prized green gems to China.

Both of these factors have spent time in the spotlight this year.

The industry made headlines for all the wrong reasons in October, with a report from the natural resources watchdog Global Witness finding that up to US$31 billion in jade left the country last year alone, the majority of it illegally. The organization’s investigation traced many of the profits from the illicit trade back to government officials, military elites and the country’s so-called crony class, with some in the weeks since the allegations disputing the report’s findings.

About one month after the Global Witness report’s release, a massive landslide at a mining dump site in Hpakant Township, where most of Burma’s jade deposits are located, killed at least 113 people and cast further negative light on the trade.

The Burmese government holds separate emporiums for local and international traders, with foreigners typically invited to bid on jade and jadeite at an annual jade emporium held mid-year. This year’s emporium, from June 24 to July 6 in Naypyidaw, saw a total of 8,934 jade lots and about 320 lots of various other gems, including highly coveted Mogok rubies, on offer.

Two international emporiums were held last year, the latter raking in a record $3.4 billion, up from about $2.6 billion the previous year.

In addition to the jade lots, there are about 150 gems lots on display at the Naypyidaw emporium this month.

The government in recent years has sought to stem the flow of raw jade out of the country, in favor of encouraging local entrepreneurs to purchase the stones with value-added intentions.