Myanmar-China Border Trade Drops US$200 M Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

By Myo Pa Pa San 25 February 2020

YANGON—Bilateral border trade between Myanmar and China declined by US$209 million from Jan. 23 to Feb. 18 compared to the same period last year due to the spread of coronavirus, according to U Khin Maung Lwin, assistant permanent secretary for the Ministry of Commerce.

The value of border trade through the Muse, Chinshwehaw, Lweje and Kanpiketi border trade zones totaled over $270 million—a decline from $479 million in the same period last year.

“It was mainly because of the COVID-19 outbreak and Chinese New Year holidays. The holidays started on January 23 and normally end in early February,” U Khin Maung Lwin told The Irrawaddy.

Before the coronavirus outbreak, the value of daily trade through the border trade zones was between $10 million and $14 million. Since the outbreak, it has dropped to between $1 and $2 million per day, according to the Ministry of Commerce.

“Border trade has recovered slightly since trade resumed after February 13, but travel restrictions are still in force and watermelons are therefore not selling,” said U Khin Maung Lwin. “Around 40 trucks of honeydew melon have been exported to China as some Chinese supermarkets have bought them online. Also, only limited volumes of marine products are being exported as airlines have not yet resumed flights in the area.”

As the virus outbreak has caused Myanmar’s exports of perishable goods to drop, the Ministry of Commerce is working with the Yangon Regional Government to enable growers and producers that normally export their products to instead sell them in Yangon as a short-term solution, according to Commerce Minister Dr. Than Myint.

“The virus outbreak has negatively affected the income of manufacturers as well as the tax revenues of the government. Imports of raw materials have declined and manufacturers are concerned about the availability of raw materials as their stocks run out,” he said as government officials met at the Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry on Feb. 22.

The minister of commerce added that Myanmar is not alone in suffering due to the virus outbreak as the global economy has been affected. He called for collaborative efforts to overcome the challenges.

“We can’t predict if it will be over in one or two months or will go on longer. Therefore, it is important for the government, employers, employees and economists to work together to address this issue,” said Dr. Than Myint.

Garment factories in Myanmar have cut their hours since early February, closing on weekends and eliminating weekday overtime. Some factories are now also closing on Mondays and running only a four-day work week.

“The number of factories that close on Monday due to the shortage of raw materials has increased gradually,” said U Aung Myo Hein, a member of the Myanmar Garment Manufacturers Association. “Next month, around 50 percent of factories will reduce working hours.”

The association members are set to meet with Commerce Ministry Permanent Secretary U Aung Soe this week to discuss the shortage of raw materials for garment factories.

The total value of overland trade with China from Sept. 1 2019 to Feb. 14 was $14.54 billion, according to the Commerce Ministry.

A large portion of overland trade with China goes through the border gate at Muse. In the 2019-20 fiscal year, Myanmar estimated it would export $3.5 billion in goods and import $1.5 billion through the border gate.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.

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