RANGOON — More Western jade traders are expected to attend to the upcoming Naypyidaw Gems Emporium, after the lifting of US economic sanctions last month.
Among the American restrictions which were lifted was a longtime ban on transactions involving jade, gems and jewelry from Burma. The move by the US government—announced in September—was criticized by rights groups, who maintain that the Burmese military has not made necessary progress to justify an end to sanctions, which were used as leverage against the former regime.
The state-run Global New Light of Myanmar reported on Thursday that the policy shift meant that traders from the European Union and the United States would be invited to Burma’s 90th such gems emporium, scheduled to be held from Nov. 20-29 in the country’s capital.
U Min Thu, deputy director of the Myanmar Gems Enterprise, confirmed to The Irrawaddy that traders from 21 countries had been invited to the event.
“After the US economic sanctions were lifted, we invited more Western traders for the first time. Normally we invite traders from mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, and some from Thailand and Singapore,” he said.
Around 6,000 jade lots and thousands of gem lots will be on display at the event and sold through an open tender process as well as through competitive bidding systems.
“The number of jade and gem lots will be the same as the July emporium, not less than that,” U Min Thu said, even though November’s emporium is three days shorter than July’s.
Originally, prices were to be set in US dollars instead of euros, which is the standard currency of the industry, but U Min Thu said that the shift to dollars was cancelled due to the limited time to prepare banking measures for the event.
“The government gems committee decided that we would keep the use of euro payments this time, and we will prepare for next year,” he said of the transition to dollars.
The Myanmar Gems Enterprise reported that it earned around 600 million euros (US$668.3 million) in July’s emporium. It was less than December’s event, where sales generated around 900 million euros (more than $1 billion).
The record high was in July 2014, when the government and private enterprises sold around 2.6 billion euros ($2.9 billion) in jade to foreign traders, up from about 2 billion euros ($2.2 billion) in 2013, according to the (now defunct) Ministry of Mines.
Jade sales in Burma have significantly declined in recent years as the government attempts to reduce trade in raw jade. In August, the National League for Democracy government announced that all current jade mining licenses would expire in 2018; licenses will only be considered for renewal after an environmental management plan is completed for jade-rich areas of Kachin State.
An October 2015 report published by Global Witness, a London-based NGO, revealed that large revenues from Burma’s jade trade had continued to fall into the hands of high-ranking military officials and well-connected crony firms.
Entitled “Jade: Myanmar’s ‘Big State Secret,’” the report estimated that in 2014, Burma’s jade industry was valued as high as $31 billion.