Govt Gives Green Light for Wine Imports

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 19 March 2015

RANGOON — Domestic companies can apply for wine import licenses as of Wednesday, the Ministry of Commerce has announced, nearly one month after a major retail association stopped selling foreign alcohol demanding swift reforms.

Commerce Ministry deputy director general Yan Naing Tun told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that relevant authorities are collaborating to streamline Burma’s alcohol imports to regulate licensing, taxation and retail standards.

“We will issue import licenses and other departments will handle their responsibilities,” Yan Naing Tun said.

The ministry’s announcement said that all potential wine importers will be required to show company registration materials, a list of countries from which they intend to import, a recommendation from the Food and Drugs Administration and the targeted alcohol content for their imports.

The new regulations limit imports to marine and air trade via Rangoon; overland cross-border trade wil be prohibited.

Existing licenses for hotels and duty-free shops will not be affected by the change in policy.

The ministry said that due to the changing political situation in Burma and an influx of foreigners, growing demand for luxury imports prompted the new regulations.

Local retailers, many of which began a voluntary boycott of imported alcohol in late February to avoid lawsuits over selling products illegally imported by their distributors, welcomed the new policy and said they hope to have foreign wines back on the shelves shortly.

Win Win Tint, director of City Mart Holdings, said her chain of retailers will aim to restock in April, and urged the ministry to act fast on legalizing other types of alcohol imports.

“We will resume selling the wine bottles, but I expect that it will resume after April because there are a lot of processes involved,” she said. “But I want the government to allow us to import other alcohol soon as well.”

On Feb. 20, more than 300 sellers listed under the Myanmar Retailers Association (MRA) voluntarily stripped their shelves of foreign alcohol out of concern that they could be targeted by the government.

Burma has maintained a strict import policy implemented in the mid-1990s as part of reforms that largely benefited military- and crony-owned companies that controlled much of the economy. Over the years, many retailers acquired luxury foreign goods through connections in the hotel industry or black market channels.

The practiced continued largely unhindered until late 2013, when mobile task forces comprising ministry, customs and police officials carried out two major crackdowns on retailers and announced plans to revise the policy.