MANDALAY — Jade traders in upper Burma urged the government to stop jade mining in Kachin State’s Hpakant and Lone Khin regions to prevent the decline of the local jade market.
More than 20,000 jade traders from Mandalay, Sagaing, Hpakant and Lone Khin signed a petition to this effect and sent it to government officials in Naypyidaw on Tuesday.
“We want the government to halt jade mining and exports, in order to prevent a market downturn inside the country,” said Thein Win, chairperson of the Mandalay Jade Market maintenance committee.
About 90 percent of the country’s local jade market is in the Mandalay, Sagaing, Hpakant and Lone Khin regions. The biggest jade market is in Mandalay, where Chinese buyers do most of their trading.
The petition stated that the mass production of jade and direct export of uncut stones, mainly to China, had affected the local trading market.
“Starting in 2014, mining companies used heavy machinery to mass produce. They sold uncut boulders directly to Chinese traders and locals had few opportunities to buy them,” he added.
Locals say small scale traders and gems cutters have been affected as well, due to the declining price of jade.
“Because the uncut rocks are exported—both legally and illegally—to China, there’s no stock left in the local market. The price of the jade has fallen about 50 percent in the local market and there is no high quality jade left in the market,” Thein Win added.
Burma’s biannual jade emporiums rely on trade with China, and have taken a hit now that buyers are mainly focused on the direct export of uncut jade across the Sino-Burma border. Local traders say that illegal exports have shifted interest away from the emporiums and hurt the local market.
“We urge government authorities to halt all jade mining for the time being, deter the export of uncut jade and take action against illegal exports. If they don’t, the local jade market will not exist for much longer,” said Thein Win.
“In 2012, the government halted mining and the local jade market reacted favorably. This is why we are urging them to do the same once again,” he added.
In July, the government decided not to renew existing jade mining licenses pending an environmental impact assessment. Hundreds of licenses expired at the end of July, but hundreds more will not expire until 2018.
The petition stated that the government should not take action against local prospectors who search for jade in Kachin State’s mines in order to make a living. The traders said they disagree with the natural resources and environmental conservation minister’s decision in early August to take legal action against the prospectors, in an effort to control deadly accidents due to the collapse of mining waste and the resulting landslides.
“This is not a good solution. The Mandalay Jade Market depends heavily on local prospectors. If the government wants to prevent accidents, they should take action against the mining companies and the illegal traders,” said Kyaw Zaw Aung, secretary of the Mandalay Jade Market’s maintenance committee.
The petition was sent to the office of State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, the minister of natural resources and environmental conservation, the parliamentary committees for natural resources and environment conservation and the Mandalay Division chief minister.
“If the government ignores us, we will take to the streets and protest,” he added.