Burma

Jade Trade: Official Export Earnings Down for 2015

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 16 February 2016

RANGOON — Revenue derived from Burma’s official jade exports declined in the first nine months of the 2015-16 fiscal year, as the lucrative industry continues to draw fire over safety, ethical and environmental concerns.

According to figures from the Ministry of Commerce, US$567 million in revenue was derived from jade exports from April to December last year, compared to $1.4 billion for the 2014-15 fiscal year.

Seaborne trade accounted for $262 million, while $305 million was attributed to overland trade.

On the apparent drop in official export figures—albeit with three months of the fiscal year yet to be tallied—Win Myint, director of the Ministry of Commerce’s trade promotion department, said the government was “really only stimulating the jade market within Burma.”

The last jade emporium, held exclusively for domestic traders, took place in December in Naypyidaw, with over 6,800 lots on display.

While the precious stone is sold officially at separate emporiums for domestic and international buyers, the majority of Burma’s jade is smuggled illegally over the border with China. The extent of illegal earnings is not captured in official data but a report by Global Witness in October last year estimated that up to $31 billion in jade left the country in 2014.

The watchdog’s investigation found that much of the profit from the illicit trade was linked to government and military elites.

The industry was also tarnished by a series of deadly landslides in Kachin State’s Hpakant in 2015, the worst of which killed over 100 local prospectors in November. Many so-called hand-pickers are drawn to Hpakant Township from around the country to sift through huge piles of waste discarded by mining companies in search of valuable stone.

Jade remains one of Burma’s key export items, with China, Hong Kong and Taiwan among the leading target countries. As quoted in the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar on Tuesday, an unnamed commerce ministry official said total exports were still expected to hit $1 billion by the close of the current fiscal year.

Tun Hla Aung, secretary of the Myanmar Gems and Jewelry Entrepreneurs Association, said the Chinese government was more strictly monitoring large overseas bank transfers, limiting Chinese traders’ ability to acquire funds to purchase jade.

Min Thu, assistant director of the Myanmar Gems Enterprise, concurred that “many Chinese jade traders couldn’t get loans from banks to make jade purchases.”

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