Myanmar's annual gem emporium took in more than US$3 billion dollars this year, the most ever for the annual sale of gems and jade, and the country is on the mission to boost hard-earned foreign income from the precious stones.
The emporium generated $3.4 billion in income and saw the successful auction of 6,007 of 7,454 jade lots, 126 out of 436 gem lots and 224 of the total 342 pearl lots, according to organisers.
“This year sale surpassed the target and is the record sale in Myanmar emporium history,” said Tun Hla Aung, joint secretary of Myanmar Gems and Jewellery Entrepreneurs Association.
Myanmar started to hold annual gem sales in 1964. Last year’s event raised over $2.4 billion.
Revenues were boosted by improved access to the country and a rise in the price of jade.
“This year jade price is more than 20 per cent higher than last year,” Tun Hla Aung said.
An uncut lump of jade weighing nearly a quarter of a metric tonne failed to make its starting price of 60 million euros ($82 million), Tun Hla Aung told said.
“No one dared to buy such a precious stone,” he explained.
Over 4,000 traders from China, Hong Kong, Thailand and Japan attended the emporium this year, according to the organisers. The 10-day auction started on June 24 and offered local and foreign buyers the chance to bid for 7,160 jade lots, owned by the government and private miners, as well as hundreds of other gems and pearls. The number of jade lots was down from around 10,000 last year and 15,000 in 2012.
According to the Ministry of National Planning and Economic Development, the government earned $1.1 billion from the export of jade stones during the fiscal year ending March.
In the previous fiscal year, the income was only $297.9 million.
The precious green stone, which is mined in northern Kachin State, is exported mainly to China, Hong Kong and India – jurisdictions with strong demand for jade jewellery and craft.
The activity is expected to rise further as the government will allow the resumption of jade mining in areas of Kachin State, where it has been suspended since May 2012 due to armed conflict.
An official from the supervisory work committee for jade plots said that the resumption is intended to improve the socio-economic welfare of its residents. The mining will resume in Lonekhin, Phar Kant, Mawluu-Maw Han and Khanni townships.
The resumption is possible because the Union Peace Working Committee has formed a negotiation team with representatives of the Kachin Independence Organisation, and its armed wing, the Kachin Independence Army, to settle the conflict, the official said. The negotiation team is also discussing holding political talks in the state, the official said.
Most of the world’s jade supply – as well as the best - comes from the small mining town of Phar Kant in the conflict-ridden Kachin region in Myanmar.
Jade trade is also set to rise further as the government approved the exemption on the 30 per cent tax levied on income earned from the trade of jade, ruby, diamond, sapphire, emerald and other precious gems.
Jade exports could rise if the United States lifts the last part of its sanctions against Myanmar. The sanctions were imposed in May 1997, following the junta government’s large-scale repression of the democratic opposition. In July 2012, the US government issued a general licence to authorise the exportation of US financial services to Myanmar, permitting the first new US investment in the country in nearly 15 years, but jadeite and rubies mined or extracted from Myanmar still cannot be imported to the US.
Myanmar has been eagerly awaiting the lifting of all sanctions by the US, the world’s largest economy, as the country desperately wants to boost its exports.
Government income is also expected to rise if the smuggling is addressed.
Jade is also being exported illegally. More than Ks 3.9 billion worth of jade and gems has been seized before being smuggled out of Myanmar between April 2011 and last month, officials said. Most was reportedly on the way to China, where jade is considered a symbol of prosperity and longevity.
According to an industry expert, Myanmar produced more than 43 million kg of jade in fiscal year 2011-12. If valued at $100 per kg, it was worth $4.3 billion. However, official exports of jade that year stood at only $34 million.