US Gem Traders Eye Bilateral Trade

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 4 October 2016

RANGOON – US gem traders interested in bilateral trade with Burma met with officials from the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers and Commerce Industry (UMFCCI) in Rangoon on Monday.

President of the American Gem Trade Association (AGTA), Jeffrey Bilgore, led a delegation of five to meet the UMFCCI’s vice chairman, Dr. Maung Maung Lay and members of the Myanmar Gems and Jewelry Entrepreneurs’ Association (MGJEA) to discuss the gem market in Burma.

Bilgore said the main purpose of the delegates’ visit was to re-establish direct lines of commerce between Burma and the United States, a joint statement said.

“Our goal in coming here is to show and to demonstrate to the world that the gem sector in Myanmar is as worthy as any in the world and that commerce can only help all of us improve and make democracy stronger,” Bilgore said.

The 35-year-old AGTA promotes transparent supply chains and honest business dealings in the global gem industry.  The statement also said that Burma’s gem industry is comparable to any other in the world.

“Our goal here is to help in the development of the new rules, to show you how we do business and hopefully we can help each other grow,” Bilgore said.

This is the first meeting between US gem traders and Burmese gem traders since US president Barak Obama pledged to lift economic sanctions on Burma last month.

Dr. Maung Maung Lay told The Irrawaddy that US traders are particularly interested in Burma’s famous rubies.

“They’ve asked us about the recent situation of gem exports and government regulations, they really want our rubies for the world market,” he said.

He added that recently gem exports have been barred by Burma’s government, though some illegal trade persists.

“The gem market is big, if the government can make good regulations and collect tax from gem exports, we can earn a lot of foreign currency. Rubies are small but if we can make value added products, it will be a huge market for us,” Dr. Maung Maung Lay said.

Dr. Aung Kyaw Win, prominent local jeweler and vice-chair of the MGJEA, said it was important for Burma to conduct socially responsible and sustainable business, according to the statement.

He said the previous government concentrated only on rough gemstones but greater emphasis should be placed on “value-added” gems for Burma to become more competitive.

“The most important thing is the sustainable development, without doing human resource development, we cannot have sustainability,” he said in the statement.

He added that the government should make three major changes to its industry policy: introduce precise and realistic import-export procedures, review import-export duties to discourage illegal trade, and to form a regulatory autonomous body for gems and jewelry trade promotion.

“Myanmar value-added jewelers export is earning no more than US$20 million every year while Thailand receives more than $1 billion,” he said.

“Our association [MGJEA] has already submitted a human resource-based master plan to develop value-added industries in our country. It will enhance trade volume.”

An attendee of the meeting, Peter Kucik of Inle Advisory Group, said in the statement that US sanctions on Burma businesses, including those on the gem industry, could be lifted “as soon as this week.”