Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Burmese Gems for Sale

The Irrawaddy News

A special Burmese gems emporium organized by the state-run Myanmar Gems Enterprise (MGE) is taking place at the Myanmar Convention Center (MCC). The sale started on 22 June and ends on July 4.

Over 8000 jade lots as well as quality gems, pearls and jewelry are to be sold through competitive bidding by tender.

Rangoon-based gems traders said regular jade buyers from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Beijing would come in lower numbers than in former years because of global calls for a boycott on Burmese gems and tightening Western sanctions.

Former US President George Bush signed the Burma Jade Act into law on July 29, 2008, restricting the import of precious Burmese gems and stones and extending existing import sanctions on Burma.

Charles Perigh, a western gemstone dealer with many friends in Burma, told The Irrawaddy: “Most of the best pits in Mogok, which is also called Rubyland, are run by relatives of high ranking family members of the Burmese military. There is no stability in the gems business and nothing is definite these days.”

“Although the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings company (UMEH) sells gemstones in Rangoon by auction twice per year, low and medium quality roughs are cut and sold directly in Mogok through brokers,” Perigh said.

“Moreover, the cut stones, whether loose or mounted in jewelry, go to Thailand from Rangoon in different ways.”

“Some unique and first-class gems, such as clean pigeon-blood rubies weighing several carats, have a different destiny. These rubies often go directly into the pockets of family members of the regime in Mogok, who secretly send them to Singapore for sale through brokers to get a better price,” said Perigh.

According to officials at the US Department of Treasury, the sanctions target two conglomerates: the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (UMEH) and the Myanmar Economic Corporation. Both have extensive businesses in a variety of sectors critical to the Burmese government, including the gem, banking and construction industries.

Perigh said: “I do not think the embargo is effective. In fact the jade business is Chinese. Roughs including huge boulders weighing several quintals are mainly exported to Hong Kong. This trade can bring great profit to the Burmese generals.”

Awng Wa, a member of the board of advisers for the All Kachin Students and Youth Union (AKSYU), who regularly monitors the jade trade at the border, said to The Irrawaddy: “Trade is only possible for persons close to the Burmese generals. Only they can easily go and sell in China, Singapore and other Asean countries. Moreover, they can buy very precious high quality rubies, sapphires and other gems at bargain prices now.”

“Nowadays, Jade sales are very low. Demand from Chinese traders has dropped, and dealing at the jade market in Hpacan has fallen. Most joint-venture jade companies in Hpacan have suspended mining operations, though some joint-venture jade companies which are related to Burmese military leaders remain in operation,” Awng Wa said.

According to the Central Statistical Organization, Burma produced 30,896.44 tons of jade and 20.5 million carats of gems in 2008. The gems included ruby, sapphire, spinel and peridot, as well as 767 kilograms of pearl.

Burma usually holds gem auctions twice a year, but in recent years they have been held with increasing frequency in a bid to raise foreign currency amid tightening sanctions against the junta. Four such auctions were held in 2006.

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