Myanmar cracks down on illicit trade

09 February 2020
Myanmar cracks down on illicit trade
A buyer checks a Jade stone at the LoneKhin night market in Hpakant, Kachin State, northern Myanmar. Photo: Nyein Chan Naing/EPA

Myanmar encounters illicit trade valued at about US$6.4 billion every year. But this large figure only reflects trade on official routes between Myanmar and its neighbouring countries, accord to a report by the UN Conference on Trade and Development.

“This is just a tip of the iceberg,” said Than Myint, the country’s minister of commerce, during the first-ever Illicit Trade Forum held 3 and 4 February at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

The event convened by UNCTAD and the Transnational Alliance to Combat Illicit Trade (TRACIT) brought together various actors to address this alarming problem that drains more than $2 trillion from the global economy annually.

In Myanmar, long borderlines, insecurity and weak capacity make it difficult to effectively control illicit trade, which includes wildlife trafficking, smuggling of alcohol and tobacco, according to the report by UNCTAD.

The illicit trade of jade from Myanmar has been called the biggest natural resources heist in modern history.

For example, the country produces jade worth between $12 billion and $31 billion every year, but up to 80 percent is smuggled out of the country, robbing the government of billions in taxes.

As the report notes, other forms are illegal logging or illegal import of substandard goods, fake or unregistered medicine and dangerous goods that pose health and safety risks.

 “Illicit trade threatens the existence of small and medium enterprises apart from depriving the government of revenues for public services,” Than Myint said.