The Irrawaddy

Sanctions Unlikely to Affect Gems Industry

A prospective buyer checks a piece of jade at Myanmar’s Gems Emporium 2017 on Tuesday in Naypyitaw.

NAYPYITAW — Possible sanctions on Myanmar’s jade and gems are unlikely to have a noticeable impact on the country, said local gems dealers, as Myanmar sells many of its rubies and sapphires to China, India and Thailand.

In response to Myanmar Army counter-insurgency operations in northern Rakhine that saw more than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims flee to Bangladesh since late August, some American luxury jewelry retailers have boycotted gems from Myanmar, posing challenges to Myanmar’s gems industry.

“Our country only opened very recently. There is not much difference between being sanctioned or not. Sales did not increase after sanctions were lifted [by the US in September last year],” said vice-chairman U Myint Han of the Myanmar Gems and Jewelry Entrepreneurs Association.

“For example, if we record sales revenue of $583 million, gems only count for $3 million. The rest comes from jade,” he added, as Myanmar’s jade is mainly exported to neighboring China through border trade.

French luxury gem retailer Cartier recently announced that it would boycott gems from Myanmar.

US company Tiffany & Co stopped buying rubies from Myanmar in 2003 when the US Congress enacted a law that banned the importation of products from Myanmar. The ban included a loophole that allowed dealers to import gems from Myanmar if they were cut and polished somewhere else.

In 2007, Cartier boycotted buying gemstones mined in Myanmar in response to a military crackdown on protestors demanding democracy.

Daw Khin Ohn Myint of Bawma Gems Co in Myanmar’s ruby-rich Mogok said Myanmar has no direct market with western buyers and boycotts will have limited impact.

“Jade is mainly bought by China and international buyers buy from China,” said Daw Khin Ohn Myint who called the boycotting “not unusual.”

Myanmar held its 54th annual gems emporium in August this year, selling 518.824 million euros (690 million USD) worth of 5,197 gem and jade lots under an open tender system.

Director-general U Khin Latt Gyi of the Ministry of Mines said, “Gems dealers want to legally sell their products. So our ministry organizes gems emporiums twice a year, and mostly Chinese buyers come and buy.”

He and another assistant director however declined to comment on the impact of the Rakhine issue on Myanmar’s jade and gems industry.

Myanmar is currently holding another jade and gems emporium in Naypyitaw that will sell 190 gem lots and 6,685 jade lots. More than 2,000 Chinese buyers, 19 Thai buyers and three buyers from Macao have come to the emporium, while only a Canadian buyer has registered to attend.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.