A file photo shows a container crane at
the Myanmar International Thilawa Terminal, south of Yangon.
Figures released by the Customs Department reveal state
enterprises accounted for 52 percent of foreign trade in
THE government controlled more than half of Myanmar’s foreign
trade in the 2006-07 fiscal year after its share of trade rose
six percentage points, according to figures released by the Customs
State enterprises were responsible for 52 percent of Myanmar’s
trade in the year to March 31, 2007, up from 46pc the previous
The increase was largely attributed to higher earnings from
the sale of natural gas by the Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE).
“We can’t say that trading in the private sector
is declining. The (government’s) rise is mainly due to stronger
exports of natural gas,” said Dr Maung Aung, an economist
with the Economic Studies and Research Centre, under the Union
of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI).
The government dominated exports during the year, generating 61pc
of the US$5.01-billion total as officials sought to increase their
foreign exchange earnings.
Imports, meanwhile, were mainly the domain of the private sector,
with the government responsible for 36pc of the $2.92 billion
of imports in 2006-07, Customs figures show.
Myanmar achieved a record $7.93 billion in trade in 2006-07
– up 43pc on the previous year – with a surplus of
$2.09 billion due largely to the government’s “export
first, import second” strategy which limits payment of imports
to money first earned through sales abroad.
The MOGE, which alone was responsible for 43pc of the country’s
export earnings mainly through its gas exports to Thailand, brought
in $2.16 billion in foreign exchange during the year, according
to a list of Myanmar’s top 50 exporters and importers released
by the Customs Department.
The MOGE’s earnings were particularly strong last year
– more than twice the $1.08 billion it exported in 2005-06
– due to high gas prices rather than an increase in the
amount of gas exported, an official from the Ministry of Energy
told The Myanmar Times on condition of anonymity.
“The amount of natural gas exported was the same as the
previous year’s amount but the price was higher,”
The MOGE earned more than four times the country’s next
largest exporter, the state-run Myanma Timber Enterprise, which
sold $519 million worth of goods abroad.
Third place was the government’s Myanma Gems Enterprise,
which brought in $296.9 million from sales. An MGE official said
most of the income was from jade sold at three jade and gem emporiums
during the year.
“Jade production increased and Chinese passion for jade
pushed up prices and demand,” he said, asking not to be
The country’s fourth biggest exporter was Myanmar Ivanhoe
Copper Co., Ltd (MICCL), a joint venture between the government’s
Mining Enterprise No. 1 and Canadian giant Ivanhoe Mines. MICCL,
which brought in $106.6 million from its Monywa Copper Project
during 2006-07, has an uncertain future as Ivanhoe Mines in March
this year announced it had decided to divest all its business
interests and assets in Myanmar.
The country’s fifth top exporter was Htoo Trading Co.,
Ltd ($65.1 million), which is heavily involved in teak log exports.
Run by one of the country’s top tycoons, U Tay Za, Htoo
Trading was also the biggest private sector exporter in 2005-06.
Rounding out the top 10 in the Customs Department’s rankings
were Myawaddy Trading ($64.3 million); Cooperative Export Import
Enterprise ($50.9 million); Golden Peacock Co., Ltd ($33.5 million);
KB International Co., Ltd ($27.7 million); and Myanmar Airways
International ($24.6 million).
In imports, the private sector, despite accounting for 64pc
of incoming trade, featured only once among the top 10 importers.
Cigarette company Rothmans of Pall Mall came in at 5th place
with nearly $40 million of imports. The United States Embassy
was 10th, bringing in $20.7 million of goods during the year –
presumably associated with the construction of its new compound
Myanmar’s top importer, Myanmar Petrolchemical Enterprise,
was far ahead of the pack with $676.3 million of imports during
2006-07 as it topped up the country’s petrol and diesel
The MOGE was the second biggest importer ($150.8 million), followed
by Myawaddy Trading ($91.2 million), Myanma Railways ($54.0 million),
Rothmans, Myanma Electrical Power Enterprise ($36.9 million),
Cooperative Export Import Enterprise ($30.6 million), Myanma Posts
and Telecommunication ($27.0 million) and the Department of Health
in 9th place ($20.9 million).
The private sector was more strongly represented in imports
of smaller quantities, however, and accounted for 34 of the country’s
top 50 importers, according to the Customs Department.
Dr Maung Aung commented that greater flexibility in trade procedures
would likely see the private sector become more heavily involved
in international trade.
“Both the government and private sectors are important
for economic development of the country. But the government should
show some encouragement to the private sector as the country is
now practising a market-oriented economic system,” he said.
Thailand was Myanmar’s top trading partner during 2006-07
with a bilateral trade volume of $2.66 billion, Ministry of Commerce
After Thailand, Myanmar’s other main trading partners
were mainland China ($1.27 billion), Singapore ($1.22 billion),
India ($895 million) and Hong Kong ($424 million).
China’s official Xinhua news agency last week said 90pc
of Myanmar’s foreign trade was with other Asian countries,
and was 4.8pc with European nations and a paltry 1.5pc with American