Junta Red Tape Sparks Medicine Shortages in Myanmar

By The Irrawaddy 15 July 2022

The price of pharmaceuticals in Myanmar has increased by 5 to 10 percent and some medicines are out of stock because of the red tape being applied in the application procedure for import permits, according to industry insiders.

“The price of medicines has gone up mainly because of difficulties with acquiring import permits,” said a pharmaceutical importer and distributor. Medicines for diabetes, antibiotics for lung problems and supplements for babies are almost out of stock, he said.

Previously, the Commerce Ministry handled import applications. But since April, pharmaceutical importers have also had to seek approval from the junta’s Central Committee on Ensuring Smooth Flow of Trade and Goods, its work committee and the regime’s Health Ministry.

The central committee is chaired by Lieutenant General Moe Myint Tun. Its working committee is headed by Deputy Commerce Minister U Nyunt Aung.

The lengthy procedure that involves seeking approval from one regime body after another has caused price fluctuations and reduced availability, said importers.

The committee divides the goods into five groups in order of priority. Fuel, cooking oil and pharmaceuticals are at the top of the list. But the procedure is unnecessarily long as the authorities check the average import volume of previous years, sources said.

And importers cannot buy as many products as they want due to inflation, said an importer from Yangon.

“It is taking longer to import due to extra steps in the procedure,” he said. Prices will increase when the supply is low and users will suffer, he added.

Importers of other goods are also struggling to acquire import permits and have complained to the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said business owners.
A shortage of US dollars is the major factor affecting businesses, they said. Unless the dollar crisis is solved, businesses will continue to struggle and it will be hard to help stabilize commodity prices, they said.

Junta spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun told a press conference in June: “We give priority to essential imports. But we have restricted some goods.”

He said imports also require the final approval of the Foreign Exchange Supervisory Committee, a junta body formed in April to “scrutinize and approve” the use of foreign currency for imports. The committee meets twice a week to handle applications and gives priority to essentials, he said.

In Myanmar, around 85 percent of pharmaceuticals are imported, mainly from China, India, Pakistan and Thailand.