Thursday, July 27, 2017

Auto industry angry over right-hand drive import restriction

In 2017, only rich people will be able to drive, vehicle importers say. And no more right-hand drive vehicles will be allowed into the country.

A police officer directs traffic at a busy intersectino in downtown Yangon. Photo: Aung Htay Hlaing / The Myanmar TimesA police officer directs traffic at a busy intersectino in downtown Yangon. Photo: Aung Htay Hlaing / The Myanmar Times

The importers are criticising the government’s policy of allowing the importation only of cars built since 2015, with left-hand drive.

The comments came after the Supervisory Committee for Motor Vehicles Importing announced through the Ministry of Commerce website on November 30 that from January 1 next year, no car less than two years old can be imported. Ever since the last government decided to allow the mass importation of vehicles, a decision that swiftly flooded Yangon’s once-empty roads with cars, the government has issued an annual announcement decreeing what kinds of cars can be imported.

In recent years, owners taking part in the “clunker” program, by which they hand in an old car in exchange for a newer model, could import cars with engines under 1350cc built between 2011 and 2014 for personal use. They could also import trucks built as early as 2007. All must be left-hand drive.

All other cars for personal use must have been built since 2015, though express buses can date back to 2012, and minibuses and city buses to 2007. Importers reacted swiftly.

“Car prices will rise because importers can import only late models, which are already expensive in the countries of origin. When you add Myanmar tax, the price will rise even higher,” said U Aye Htun, of Aung Thein Than company. But at least the cars will be of higher quality, he added.

U Soe Tun, chair of Myanmar Automobile Manufacturers’ and Distributors’ Association, said the government’s decision was aimed at reducing congestion by cutting the number of imported vehicles. More than half of the imported vehicles had 1300cc engines, he said, adding, “Cars are going to be expensive.”

Drivers of modest means will not be able to afford cars, dealers say.

“This means only rich people will be able to afford a car,” said U Aung Than Win, chair of the Automobile Trading Association. “The government is trying to ease Yangon traffic congestion. But the policy covers the whole country. Other states and regions will still need cars.”

The ban on right-hand drive vehicles also worries importers. Many of the right-hand drive cars on the road are Japanese-built models still regarded as highly reliable despite their age.

“This new policy will favour new Korean- and Chinese-made cars. But they’re not as good as second-hand Japanese cars. The government should let poorer people buy cars at lower prices,” said U Aung Than Win.