Myanmar gems sale nets record $2.8 billion - official

(Reuters) - YANGON, March 25 Fri Mar 25, 2011 7:44am EDT

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(Reuters) - YANGON, March 25 (Reuters) - Gems dealers in Myanmar, one of the world's biggest sources of precious stones, hit record sales of more than 2 billion euros ($2.8 million) during a 12-day emporium that ended this week, a trade official said on Friday.

The figure was close to the total 2.2 billion euros taken in over three emporiums last year and was the biggest single sale of gems since Myanmar started holding the events 47 years ago.

Gemstones are a lucrative source of income for Myanmar's military government and its business cronies, despite Western sanctions imposed on the resource-rich country, some of which outlaw the procurement and sale of Burmese stones.

Despite the embargoes, many of the gems reach Western countries via other Asian countries, Hong Kong and Taiwan in particular.

The fair in the capital, Naypyitaw, attracted 8,719 gems traders, 5,000 of them from overseas, with 13,608 lots of jade sold, a senior official from Federation of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry told Reuters.

The United States Congress passed a bill in October 2007 to expand sanctions outlawing domestic sales of rubies, jade and other gems routed through Myanmar's neighbors. Experts say this has had only a limited impact on the junta.

Myanmar produces more than 90 percent of the world's rubies and fine-quality jade. Most of its jade and gemstone mines are run by the defense and mines ministries and businessmen with close connections to the regime.

It holds emporiums three times a year. The last fair, in November, recorded sales amounting of 1.08 billion euros.

Myanmar used to limit publicity of the fairs but has become more open in the last year. It has launched a drive to attract foreign investment, particularly from Asian countries, to what it says is a market with vast potential held back by sanctions.

(Reporting by Aung Hla Tun; Editing by Martin Petty and Sanjeev Miglani)

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