RANGOON — Commerce has re-commenced in northern Shan State’s Muse, Burma’s largest border trading point, after two weeks of fighting between government forces and ethnic armed groups came to a halt in early December.
Beginning on November 20, clashes between the Burma Army and the ethnic coalition known as the Northern Alliance—made up of Kachin, Kokang, Ta’ang and Arakanese forces—displaced thousands and effectively stopped trade in Muse’s 105th mile trading hub on the Chinese border.
Typically, more than 1,000 trucks transport goods daily between Muse, Rangoon and Mandalay. When fighting broke out, trucks had to stop en route to the border, bringing trade to a near standstill, merchants said.
U Thein Zaw, chairman of the Mandalay Rice Traders Association, told The Irrawaddy that starting this week, traders of rice, beans and pulses, seafood, corn and watermelon resumed travel to Muse from Mandalay.
“Trucks from Mandalay are going up to Muse, but the problem is that the road conditions are getting worse, especially in the Goke Twin area [of northern Shan State’s Kyaukme Township]. Trucks are getting stuck now,” he said.
A bridge in Hsenwi Township was destroyed during the fighting, making it impossible for 22-wheeled trucks to use the Mandalay-Lashio road to reach Muse. Traders adopted another route, using the Bhamo-Lwegel road to the China border through Kachin State.
Because of the difficulties, truck owners and drivers have demanded more money to undertake the journey, U Thein Zaw said, driving up the price of goods. The “carry fee” demanded for transporting rice—once 95 kyats per bag, has risen to 110 kyats. The price of seasonal crops has also increased.
“Some seasonal fruits can’t be stored here for a long time—like watermelon, for example—so they go up with the new rate,” he said.
U Soe Nyunt Lwin, Minister for Shan State’s economic development, told The Irrawaddy that the regional government is trying to bring conditions back to normal in Muse.
The Muse 105th mile trade zone trades at least US$5 billion per year and recorded US$3.2 billion in trade between April and early December 2016, a volume less than the same period during the previous year—$3.4 billion—according to the Ministry of Commerce.
The Burma-China trading point in Muse’s 105th mile trade zone saw its biggest trade volume during the 2015-2016 fiscal year, with US$5.3 billion of a total US$7.1 billion nationwide. Myawaddy on the Thai border, and Chin Shwe Haw on the China border followed respectively out of 15 total border trading points in the country.