YANGON - Gems traders in Mandalay have called on the government to enforce a temporary suspension on jade mining and crack down on the illegal export of the precious stone.
During a protest held at the Maha Aung Myay Gems Trading Centre on Oct 29, local jade traders demanded changes to Myanmar's gemstones laws to prop up the local market.
“We are protesting because simple gems traders are facing difficulties and we are worried that this will continue,” said protest leader Than Win.
The protesters also called for the replacement of several senior figures within the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation and the state-owned Myanmar Gems Enterprise, the Myanmar Times reported.
Than Win said local traders were being squeezed out of the market by a recent influx of large mining companies able to extract vast quantities of jade and export it directly to China or other foreign markets.
The local traders allege that many of these companies do not pay the required tax, meaning the country derives little benefit.
“These factors are destroying the supply of gems in our market,” Than Win said.
“The regulations that are included in the second amendment to the gemstones law do not serve the interests of local traders. We are calling on the government to amend the law to better consider us,” he added.
Previous amendments to the law allowed for the granting of mining permits to large companies and permitted them to legally export raw jade directly to foreign markets if tax is paid.
Ko Kyaw Oo, an employee at Dollar jade trading business, said he participated in the protest because he wanted the government to better support the local traders.
“I want the authorities to work with the public to boost the [local] jade market. Nowadays gems traders from Mandalay cannot even afford to buy gems at gems emporiums,” he said.
Another protester, Daw Tin Zar, said the local market had been slumping for years.
“It would be good if this changed because of our protest,” she said.
The government has taken one step to curb the lucrative jade mining business, centred in the country’s north: In July, it announced that mining permits would not be renewed once they expired and no new permits would be issued until by-laws to the legislation were adopted.
The natural resources watchdog Global Witness last year estimated that the industry was worth as much as US$31 billion in 2014 alone, though most of that value went untaxed and officially unaccounted for.