Myanmar's Trade With Thailand Slumps Since Coup

By The Irrawaddy 8 February 2023

Myanmar’s trade with Thailand has steeply declined since the 2021 coup as the junta imposes restrictions to prevent weapons from reaching resistance forces.

Border trade declined from over US$4 billion in 2019-20 to $3.6 billion in the 2022-23 financial year, which ends on March 31, according to the junta’s Ministry of Commerce.

Goods sold in the Thai border town of Mae Sot are largely out of stock across the frontier in Myawaddy because traders can only import if they also export to Thailand, according to a trader in Myawaddy.

“I have got all the documents needed to import fertilizers. But I can’t import because I am running a trade deficit of about 4 million baht [$119,000]. We haven’t made exports of that value. It is causing delays. Many other traders are facing the same problems,” the trader told The Irrawaddy.

The regime imposed restrictions, including that the value of imports and exports must be equal, and the payments must be made in dollars or baht through a junta-controlled bank. It has also required traders to seek approval from Myanmar’s Food and Drug Administration to import and export.

Meanwhile, trade is often delayed by frequent fighting along the border. Traders also have to pay high taxes along the route.

A Border Guard Force member. Kyaw Kha / The Irrawaddy

“This is our living so we continue to do what we have been doing. The risks are high but we continue,” said the trader.

The junta closed the Thai border at Htee Khee in Tanintharyi Region in April last year after a resistance attack on a police station on the Dawei-Htee Khee road.

The border gate was a major trading point and the closest crossing to Bangkok. Myanmar mainly exports fish, coal, lead and food to Thailand via Htee Khee and imports diesel, cooking gas, food and consumer goods.

A Tanintharyi trader said: “The Htee Khee gate has been closed since last year. Some are trading via Mawtaung and Kawthoung.”

Trade through Htee Khee was already in steady decline, falling from $2 billion in 2019-20 to $1.7 billion in 2020-21 and $1 billion in 2021-22, according to the junta’s Commerce Ministry. The ministry claimed that Htee Khee trade totaled $1.7 billion from April 1 to November 30 last year, despite the gate being closed since April.

The trader said: “I think it is the cost of gas imports. Trade through Mawtaung and Kawthoung has also declined. Trade is hopeless. It is unlikely that it will return to pre-coup levels. And we feel unsafe.”

Trade through Mawtaung was $7 million from April 1 to November 30 last year and there are no figures for the Mese border in Kayah State since the coup.

The Thai border crossings are at Myawaddy, Tachilek, Kawthoung, Myeik, Htee Khee, Mawtaung and Mese but only Tachilek, Myawaddy, Kawthoung, Myeik and Mawtaung are now open.

The regime has restricted imports of fertilizer and food and Myawaddy’s trade is currently dominated by construction materials and consumer goods.

The junta-controlled Trade Department this month told exporters to submit a list of their exports and seek online transport approval. The department will then issue a QR code for shipping.

Trucks have to show the QR code at checkpoints. The system is being trialed this month at the borders at Myawaddy and Muse and Chin Shwe Haw in Shan State.

Myawaddy’s exports are mainly rice, rice powder, rubber and crops like pepper, while imports include food, consumer goods, building materials, industrial raw materials and machinery.