Record Haul in Jade Sales to Burmese Traders

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 21 October 2014

RANGOON — Jade sales at a major gems emporium for local traders in Burma hit a record high this week, a spokesperson for the Myanma Gems Enterprise sales committee told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday.

Min Thu, the assistant director of the Myanma Gems Enterprise sales committee, said jade sales totaled 126 billion kyats (US$126 million), far surpassing a similar emporium held in January, when jade sales totaled 70 billion kyats—at that time also a record high.

The Myanma Gems Enterprise and private enterprises offered 6,982 jade lots to local traders and sold 5,988 of them via auction at the Myanmar Gems and Jade Emporium, which was held in Naypyidaw from Oct. 14 to 20. More than 1,000 local traders participated in the week-long event.

“This is the highest sales amount in kyats to local traders over the last three years,” Min Thu said. The inaugural emporium was held in 2011.

The highest valued jade lot at the emporium sold for 500 million kyats. Almost all of the jade lots were sourced from Hpakant in Kachin State.

“We would like to hold at least two emporiums for local traders because if we’re selling in kyats, the local currency will flow into the market. We earned only euro currency during the midterm emporium [in July],” he said.

In 2013, there was no gems emporium for local traders, in part because the government banned jade mining activities in Kachin State as fighting intensified between the Burma Army and Kachin rebels.

Burma produces the vast majority of the world’s jade, most of which comes from Hpakant, 350 kilometers north of Mandalay, in the conflict-torn mountains of Kachin State. After fighting broke out in 2011, the government suspended large-scale mining operations in the area, but small-scale miners and hand-pickers moved in illegally.

The government allowed mining in Kachin State to resume in early September, and has said it wants to reduce sales of raw jade to foreign traders in order to boost value-added exports of the stone.

Aung Thein, owner of Mandalay-based gems trading company Myanmar Yadanar Aung Zabu, said the local jade market did not appear to be negatively impacted by the government’s temporary suspension of mining activities in Kachin State.

“The government has said that they will reduce raw jade sales to traders, but that’s for foreign traders. For local traders, the market is still strong, but I heard that some local traders who won auction bids have not come back to claim their jade and pay, due to various reasons,” he said.

In July, the government and private enterprises sold about 2.6 billion euros (US$3.4 billion) in jade to foreign traders, up from about 2 billion euros last year, a Ministry of Mines official said. At this year’s emporium for foreign traders, 7,160 lots were occupied by private miners and government-owned enterprises, including blocks of raw jade for sale. About 6,000 lots were sold.

Most raw jade is exported to China, where it is highly prized by dealers and craftsmen who carve it into traditional Chinese sculptures and jewelry.

Ministry of Commerce trade data provided to The Irrawaddy last year showed that jade was the country’s second-biggest source of revenue after natural gas in 2011-12, valued at about $780 million. However, a July 2013 report by the US-based Ash Center at Harvard University put the value sales of Burmese jade as high as $8 billion in 2011 alone.