Retailers Seek Govt Clarification on Booze Imports

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 14 May 2015

RANGOON — The Myanmar Retailers Association (MRA) has complained to the government over the long delay in clarifying the legal status of alcohol importers.

In February more than 300 stores under the umbrella of Burma’s big chain retailers began a voluntary boycott of foreign beer, wine and liquor due to an unclear policy on the legality of foreign imports. Local retailers are waiting for a new policy on importations to be introduced by the Union government.

“We want the government to allow legal alcohol imports, that’s why we’ve stopped selling liquor for three months,” said Win Win Tint, the chairwoman of the MRA and director of City Mart Holdings.

Win Win Tint added the current uncertainty had opened up a space for the operation of profiteers working on the black market. Myo Min Aung, her deputy at the MRA, said they had also been forced to deal with accusations that the boycott in order to improve the bottom line of local producers, which he emphatically denied.

“This is an opening period in our country, many foreigners are coming, and people have been asking us when we can sell imported alcohol again,” he said. “The bigger chains stopping imported alcohol sales means that black market sales are getting bigger. It also means the government is encouraging the black market. If they approved foreign alcohol for legal import, the tax will come back to the country and consumers will receive authentic products.”

Some of the country’s biggest foreign alcohol distributors, including City Mart Holdings, Premium Distribution and Quarto Distribution, faced a government crackdown over illegal imports in late 2013, and retailers are concerned about a repeat occurrence. Last year, retailers pressed the government to devise a proper system of import licenses, and were told that a decision would need to be made with regard to the impact of alcohol consumption in Burmese society.

A month after the retailer boycott began, the Ministry of Commerce began issuing licenses for the importation of wine, but has so far refrained from providing similar licenses for beer and liquor products. Yan Naing Tun, the ministry’s deputy director general, said a decision had yet to be reached on whether approvals would be granted.

Though wine imports have received official approval, legal restrictions on importers are onerous. Imported wines must arrive in the country through marine and air trade via Rangoon, and overland cross-border trade is prohibited.

Potential importers will be required to provide company registration materials, a list of countries from which they intend to import and a recommendation from the Food and Drugs Administration, and the target alcohol content of their imports.

Retailers say the licenses themselves have been difficult to acquire because of the complexity of the application process and bureaucratic delays.