Border Trade Slashed by New Curbs

By Kyaw Kha 23 November 2012

The flow of goods from Thailand has dropped by half since the Burmese government recently introduced a new system to crackdown on illegal imports from its neighbor, according to Burmese traders.

The Burmese Department of Border Trade (DBT) under the Ministry of Commerce (MoC) began its operation on Tuesday with a “mobile team” to reduce illegal trading between Burma and Thailand. Officials targeted the Myawaddy-Rangoon route, one the main trading channels between the two countries.

Since the crackdown, imports from Thailand have reportedly plummeted by more than a half while fishery, agricultural and forestry products from Burma continue to be export regularly to Thailand through the Myawaddy trading zone.

“Most of the traders don’t send their staff to lower areas [inside Burma] anymore. Goods are only stockpiled in Myawaddy,” Mamet, a Burmese businessman, told The Irrawaddy.

Imports from Thailand—such as cars, motorbikes, electronics, alcohol, beer, cosmetics, utensils, clothes and food stuffs—come to its western neighbor through the Myawaddy-Rangoon route due to an “understanding” between local Burmese authorities and armed Karen border guard forces. The Burmese government, however, has warned that they will no longer be allowed to do so since the new operation started.

The MoC said there were stable checkpoints ran by various parties, including that of the DBT, along the trading channel before, but the routine practice of checking and seizing illegal imports has been changed into a mobile team.

“There will be no more stable checkpoints and the mobile team will be moving along the route,” Tin Htun Aung, the deputy-director of the MoC, told The Irrawaddy. “Today, the team may be in Pa-an, the capital of Karen State, but tomorrow it may in Kawkareik, a town before Myawaddy on the way to Thailand.”

Led by the DBT, the Mobile Team comprises representatives from the Myanmar Customs Department, Myanmar Police Force, local administrative bodies, Border Trade Association and the media, he added.

Tin Htun Aung explained that untaxed imports from Thailand are considered illegal even if they are in the permitted list of goods. Import licenses are now available within 24 hours and export tax has also been eased, he said.

“There will be no more eight or 10 percent export tax. Official trading volumes have decreased due to businessmen’s involvement in illegal means. That’s why we have relaxed it in order to control the trade flow,” said the MoC deputy-director.

Since the beginning of November, the DBT has been busy explaining to regional assemblies, related departments and associations, businessmen and the media about its mobile team.

According to Thailand’s Tak Chamber of Commerce, monthly imports from Thailand to Burma through its border town of Mae Sot are worth three billion baht (US $100 million). A Thai merchant, however, recently told The Irrawaddy that the amount could be as much as $500 million.