Myanmar’s Border Trade With China Hit by COVID-19 Outbreaks

By The Irrawaddy 6 July 2021

Myanmar’s border trade with China is grinding to a halt due to COVID-19 spikes in major border trade towns, according to merchants from Muse, a frontier town in northern Shan State.

The Yunnan provincial government has imposed travel restrictions into Ruili – the Chinese town opposite Muse and a major border crossing between China and Myanmar – after three COVID-19 cases—two Chinese citizens and a Myanmar citizen—were reported in Ruili on Saturday, while more coronavirus cases were also reported in Muse.

“China only opens one border gate now for the minimum amount of border trade,” said an owner of a fruit exchange in Muse.

Muse is a major entry point in the bilateral border trade between Myanmar and China and trade between the two countries via Muse was worth about US$10 million a day before the pandemic. Now that total is estimated to have declined by over 60 percent.

While only around 20 COVID-19 cases were reported in Muse during the second wave of coronavirus, more than 100 cases have been reported in the border town since a fresh wave of COVID-19 hit Myanmar in late May.

Yunnan has implemented greater COVID-19 restrictions on passenger and cargo vehicles since April and has closed the Man Wen gate into Ruili, which used to operate 24 hours a day. Now, only the Jin San Jiao border gate is kept open and just 30 cargo trucks are allowed to enter China daily.

The Jin San Jiao border gate, which is located some seven miles from Muse, was mainly used to export fruit from Myanmar to China. But now all commodities including rice, marine products, onions, corn, beans and other vegetables are being exported through the Jin San Jiao gate.

Some 1,200 trucks are currently stranded at Jin San Jiao, forcing them to wait 20 to 30 days to cross the border.

“The Jin San Jiao gate might also be closed if more COVID-19 cases are reported. The border trade will come to a complete halt if this gate is also closed,” said U Min Thein, the vice-chairman of the Muse Rice Exchange.

“Merchants are desperate now. They are barely making any new exports,” added U Min Thein.

COVID-19 infections have spiked in Shan State in recent days. On Sunday, the number of cases was 349, with 120, the highest number, reported in Laukkai, 36 in Lashio and 11 in Nawngkhio (Naung Cho). All three towns are now locked down with residents required to stay at home.

Chinese provincial authorities are closely monitoring the COVID-19 situation in Myanmar and are also restricting the number of cargo trucks entering Yunnan from other border crossings in Shan and Kachin states, including Chinshwehaw and Lweje.

Myanmar’s imports from China have also been severely disrupted by the latest COVID-19 outbreak. Myanmar imports masks, medicines, electronics, household items and raw materials from China, but the number of cargo trucks entering the country from China has dropped from over 100 per day to around 20, according to merchants.

On Monday, Myanmar reported 42 fatalities, the highest death toll since the Feb. 1 coup, while 2,969 new COVID-19 cases were reported after 11,024 swab tests were carried out.

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