Myanmar government warns gem sellers not to fail at auctions

Yangon, August 20:

Myanmar has urged gem sellers to help boost the military-run country’s economy by selling as many gems as possible at upcoming auctions or face limits on their mining, state media reported today.

“Myanmar is rich in natural resources including precious stones,” Brigadier General Ohn Myint, minister of mines, said in the official New Light of Myanmar newspaper. “So, only systematic exploration of those gems can help improve the state economy,” he told a meeting of gem dealers yesterday in Nay Pyi Taw, the new administrative centre that will eventually replace Yangon as the capital.

He also urged businessmen to remember to pay taxes to the government, and warned that those failing to sell their products may be restricted in future mining efforts.

“The companies that fail to sell their products at the gem emporiums will stand less chance in seeking permission to explore gem blocks,” he said.

Myanmar used to hold gem and jade auctions once or twice a year, but they have been taking place with increasing frequency, providing the cash-strapped junta with much-needed foreign income. Two auctions

have taken place this year already, with two more planned, one in August and one in October.

July’s auction was the biggest ever, with 2,300 lots of jade being sold to merchants including 1,450 foreigners. Although the junta has been reluctant to say how much it earns from the auctions, a government official previously said he hoped an auction in March would raise $63 million.

Myanmar is one of the world’s poorest nations and is subject to US and European economic sanctions because of human rights abuses and the house arrest of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

But the impact of the sanctions has been weakened by the eagerness of neighbouring China, India and Thailand to tap Myanmar’s vast natural wealth to fuel their own growing economies. Myanmar’s natural wealth includes natural gas and minerals, as well as highly-prized teak.

The wood often disappears onto the black market which is estimated to be at least half the size of the formal economy.