Traders Demand Official Border Exchange Rates

By Lawi Weng 30 October 2012

Burmese traders in Myawaddy, across from the Thai border town of Mae Sot, want the Naypyidaw government to boost business by expanding the country’s new official rate of currency exchange to include the Thai baht.

“Thailand never has a higher value for their currency as their banks control the value and set the official rate, but not at Burmese banks. We suffer a lot when we have to buy things and change money,” said U Hamid, a local businessman.

Burmese traders must rely on Thai banks, which set daily currency exchange rates, as there are no Burmese banks offering alternatives over the border. The rate on Tuesday was 3.70 baht per 100 kyat, according to local sources.

After political changes were introduced in Burma earlier this year, the government set official rates of exchange with the US dollar in Rangoon. And businessmen are now demanding the same happens with the currencies of neighboring countries at the border.

Traders at Burma’s eastern border say they have suffered for many years having to purchase Thai goods in Mae Sot every day which are then exported to different parts of Burma—paying over the odds for currency exchange each time.

“If the government wants to have good border trade, it must adjust the official rate of exchange at the border,” said U Hamid.

There are five Burmese banks in Myawaddy Town included Myanmar Economic Bank, Myanmar Livestock and Fisheries Development Bank Ltd., Kanbawza Bank Ltd., Ayeyarwady Bank Ltd. and Myanmar Industrial Development Bank Ltd.

However, traders say that these branches can only transfer money from the border to other parts of Burma and not perform currency exchange. Aye Maung, another border trader in Myawaddy Town, Karen State, also said that the banks do not even allow large sums to be deposited in Rangoon and then withdrawn elsewhere.

He said that the banks ask too many questions such whether their cash is black market money or if tax has already been paid on it when he tries to make a large deposit.

“We have to carry bags of money when we come from Rangoon. We cannot deposit at the banks,” said Aye Maung.

Myanmar Industrial Development Bank Ltd. claimed on Oct.18 that it will open a center of official exchange rate to help border traders, but this plan has not yet been implemented even though the local branch has already opened.

“They say they will do [official exchange] but it has not happened yet. Many people have to carry their cash with them when they come to the border,” said a trader called Mon Kyi.

There are around 100 private money exchanges in Myawaddy Town that all border traders must rely on it. As a consequence of the lack of official rates, many migrants who return to Burma from working in Thailand claim they get exploited when exchanging their wages.

Border traders in Myawaddy say that if Burmese banks could offer 24-hour exchange services with an official rate, business in the area would receive a boost. Myawaddy Town is second largest border trading zone in Burma after Muse by the Chinese border in Shan State

The Irrawaddy reporter Pyi Taw Myint contributed to this story.