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Gem Sales Earn Myanmar $191M

25 march 2009

Myanmar has earned more than $191 million from sales of jade and gemstones at its latest government-sponsored auction, despite a U.S. ban on such imports, a merchant said.
More than 3,500 lots of jade and gemstones were sold at the Jade, Gems & Pearl Emporium, said the merchant who participated in the auction but spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of government reprisal. Specific revenue figures for gemstones and pearls were not available, RAPAPORT reported.
Organized by the Mines Ministry, gem auctions are a major revenue earner for Myanmar's ruling party, which faces economic and political sanctions from the West because of its poor human rights record and failure to hand over power to a democratically elected government.  The government, which takes a 10 percent tax from the sales, does not release official sales figures from the auction.
The sale ran from March 8-20, 2009, in Yangon, Myanmar's biggest city, and drew more than 3,000 gem merchants, mostly from China and Hong Kong. Attendance and revenue was roughly the same as at previous auctions, despite the sanctions and the global financial crisis.
The United States banned the import of gems from Myanmar, which already was the voluntary policy of retailers such as Tiffany's and Bulgari. U.S. officials said at that time that Myanmar has been evading earlier gem-targeting sanctions by laundering stones in other countries before they are shipped to the United States. Because of U.S. economic sanctions imposed on Myanmar in July 2003, which froze all U.S. dollar remittances to the country, international business transactions including the gem sales are done in euros.
Myanmar gem sellers say the sanctions have little impact on their business because their major buyers are from Asia.