Jade and redwood traders in China face challenges

By Zhang Ye in Ruili Source:Global Times Published: 2016/8/8 23:48:39 Last Updated: 2016/8/8 23:48:46

Corruption crackdown, new Myanmar government impacts sales

A jade store at the trading center of Ruili, Southwest China's Yunnan Province Photo: Zhang Ye/GT

Jade and redwood traders in China are looking for business diversification, at a time when domestic demands are dropping and Myanmar's new government is expected to tighten control over natural resources.

Kyaw Win Khaing, a Chinese-born Myanmar national who is part of a jade trading family, thinks the golden age of jade in China is over.

"The sales of high-end gemstones have been tepid the last two years," Kyaw Win Khaing told the Global Times on Monday.

The young man, who has just graduated from university, has been selling Myanmar jade in Ruili, Southwest China's Yunnan Province, since 2011.

Ruili, which is one of three strategic China-Myanmar border regions along with Tengchong and Yingjiang, used to attract flocks of affluent businessmen and government officials with its rich supplies of Myanmar jade.

A trading center, which now covers an area of 90.2 mu (6 hectares) was even constructed in the early 1990s to regulate jade trading, according to media reports. A local taxi driver told the Global Times on Monday on the condition of anonymity that from 2011-2013, the center was so crowded that there were no places for parking.

However, now only a few buyers can be found in the center and some jade stores have already shut down.

The sluggish sales followed the central government's 2012 decision to crackdown on corruption and extravagant spending. China's economic downturn is perceived as another factor.

Kyaw Win Khaing noted that now buyers are only interested in middle- and low-end products, priced around 10,000 yuan ($1,501).

Still, he is concerned about the future of jade trading, which is full of uncertainties under the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD).

NLD, which is now the ruling party in Myanmar, has said that it would further regulate jade mines and crackdown on rampant exploitation and smuggling.

Myanmar's jade industry is  dominated by companies with links to ethnic armies and leaders of the previous military government, Reuters reported in 2015.

The jade industry in Myanmar, which produces about 90 percent of the world's finest jade, produced $31 billion worth of the stones in 2014, equivalent to nearly half of the country's entire GDP, according to a report issued by London-based environmental advocacy group Global Witness in 2015.

In late July, the mining authorities said they would not renew mining licenses for jade and gems, and would only consider granting new permits after local gemstone laws have been passed, according to The Myanmar Times.

"In the past, we could export jade easily, but now under the new government, the customs crackdown on jade smuggling is as strict as their fight against drugs," said Kyaw Win Khaing.

The jade trade is not the only sector that has been affected. A 40-year-old man surnamed Xie who has been selling luxury redwood furniture from Myanmar since 2006, now makes a living as a taxi driver. "I used to make 800,000 yuan per year through trading Myanmar redwood. Now this has become a money-losing sector," Xie told the Global Times Monday.

Data from the commerce and trade bureau of Ruili showed that in the first half of 2016, imports through the port were 5.25 billion yuan, down 5.72 percent year-on-year. During the same time, 9.4 billion yuan worth of cargo, mainly hardware and construction building materials, was exported to Myanmar, up 5.61 percent year-on-year.

However, both Xie and Kyaw Win Khaing have faith in the future of Ruili and bilateral trade between China and Myanmar, stating that the new government in Myanmar is expected to bring more opening up and stability in the country, signifying massive opportunities in bilateral tourism and agriculture cooperation.

Industry diversification

Kyaw Win Khaing plans to bet on tourism and his uncles have already bought thousands of hectares of land in Myanmar for agriculture planting.

Against the current backdrop, Ruili's government is trying to help local businessmen reduce their reliance on the trade of jade and wood from Myanmar.

Local government officials paid a visit to Myanmar to negotiate the possibility to co-develop bilateral tourism. In addition, Ruili plans to develop local processing trade, aiming to attract manufacturing firms in the Pearl River Delta to open factories in the border city, an official with the bureau, on the condition of anonymity, told the Global Times on Monday.

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