Cross-border cargo policies put in place by China to control the spread of the coronavirus are pinching Myanmar traders and truck drivers, who have voiced concern about the safety of their cargo and charges imposed by the Chinese, officials at Myanmar trade associations said Friday.
Chinese authorities have restricted their drivers from entering Myanmar and since April 1 have required Myanmar traders in northern Shan state to pay Chinese drivers 10 yuan each (U.S. $1.40) to transport truckloads of rice and fruit from border crossings to local cargo facilities.
The move came after a decision by China’s Yunnan province to close its border with Myanmar, forbidding all vehicles except trucks to cross, and to only allow in Myanmar nationals whose identity cards specified that they were from the border town of Muse.
“Starting April 1, Chinese authorities restricted Chinese traders from entering Myanmar,” said Yiyi Khine from the Muse border area’s Fruit and Vegetable Traders Association.
“Previously, Chinese traders crossed the border to check the commodities at a facility near the 105-mile border crossing in Muse, [and] they completed the trading there,” he said. “Now, Myanmar traders need to send their cargo across the border and present the commodities to potential buyers.”
Truck drivers have criticized the policy, saying they fear that Chinese drivers will damage their vehicles and steal some of their cargo.
“The drivers are concerned that the new rules require cargo trucks to be taken over by Chinese drivers,” said Win Aung Khant, chairman of the Shan State Cargo Logistic Entrepreneurs Association. “They are concerned that there will be damage or a loss of cargo.”
Most trucks in northern Shan state drive from Muse across the Shweli River and into Ruili in southwest China’s Yunnan province.
“The Chinese drivers take over the cargo trucks from the border gate to the cargo facility in Ruili in China,” Win Aung Khant said.
Major border crossing
Muse is an important border crossing point for agriculture and livestock exports from Myanmar and for machinery and construction equipment imports from China.
Between 600 to 800 trucks from Myanmar pass through the crossing daily, and at least 300 Chinese cargo trucks enter Myanmar, local traders said.
Myanmar traders say the new rule has increased logistics expenses to the point that many cargo truck owners and drivers are facing possible bankruptcy.
They want Myanmar authorities to intervene and negotiate with their Chinese counterparts in an effort to reverse the policy, according to the trade associations.
Muse district administrators and border trade authorities discussed the issue during a meeting with their Chinese counterparts on Thursday, but failed to achieve any progress, said a meeting participant who declined to give his name because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
The Chinese authorities focused on work in the area related to Belt and Road Initiative projects and their country’s donation of medical supplies to Myanmar, he told RFA.
Myanmar officials have not imposed any restrictions on cargo traffic passing through its border crossings with China amid the spread of the coronavirus.
The Myanmar government has restricted travelers from China and elsewhere from entering the country, though Myanmar citizens returning from abroad are permitted back in but subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine to ensure they do not have the virus.
Virus cases inch upwards
On Friday, Myanmar registered 27 confirmed coronavirus, or COVID-19, cases, including four news ones, and three deaths.
Myanmar health officials have issued guidelines for people leaving quarantine centers to remain in self-isolation at home for another 14 days as a further preventive measure, to keep six feet away from their family members, to wear face masks, and to wash the hands after touching something.
The guidelines came as hundreds of people who have completed mandatory 14-day quarantines are being released from facilities in different regions of the country.
The move has sparked criticism from some that people are been released too soon and without any lab tests performed.
“Placing those suspected of having the coronavirus in quarantine is not enough,” said Nay Oo from a self-help group in Sagaing region’s Monywa township that is monitoring people who have returned from overseas trips.
“The authorities should have done lab tests and blood tests on them, but, as we understand, the facilities have limited capacity, and there are limited budgets,” he said.
Nay Oo also suggested that the costs for lab tests could be divided between people in quarantine and the government.
“It would be better than observing them only during the quarantine, but it might not work,” he said.
Reported by Kan Thar and Thant Zin Oo for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.