Border conflicts cause shortages, high prices for Myanmar traders: report

Trade with China, Bangladesh and Thailand has been hurt by conflict between junta and insurgent forces.
By RFA Burmese
2024.04.29
Border conflicts cause shortages, high prices for Myanmar traders: report A Myanmar vendor (C) selling alcohol, cigarettes and aphrodisiac looks on while waiting for customers inside a no-man’s land between Thailand and Myanmar, as seen from behind a barb-wire fence in Thailand’s Mae Sot district on April 12, 2024.
Manan Vatsyayana/AFP

Border traders throughout Myanmar are grappling with rising commodity prices and shortages of goods as fighting between the junta and forces battling to end military rule disrupts trade, an independent think tank said.

Myanmar’s military junta controls 11 of the country’s 17 border trade posts, with China, India, Thailand and Bangladesh, after recently losing territory to anti-junta forces, the Institute for Strategy and Policy, or ISP-Myanmar, said in a report released on April 13.

On the Thai border, fighting over the last month between the military and insurgents for control of Myawaddy town – Myanmar’s busiest border crossing – has led to the suspension of all trade for weeks.

Myawaddy, across a border river from the Thai town of Mae Sot, accounts for almost one-fourth of Myanmar’s total trade. In normal times, goods worth an average of US$5.5 million pass through the town every day, ISP-Myanmar added. 

“The customs department, the trade department and the Myanmar Economic Bank are unable to operate at the moment,” a Thai border trader, who declined to be identified for security reasons, told RFA. 

“These three entities seem to be caught in a cycle of blame, with none taking full responsibility,” he said.

The junta’s Ministry of Commerce announced on April 11 that some trade with Thailand would be moved by ships between the southwestern Thai town of Ranong and Myanmar’s Yangon.

ENG_BUR_TradingPosts_04292024.2.JPG
Thai Foreign Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara (R), Thai Defense Minister Sutin Klungsang (2R) and Thai Interior Minister Anutin Charnvirakul (3R) walk in the Rim Moei market during a visit to survey the area along the border following clashes in Myanmar, in Thailand's Mae Sot district on April 23, 2024. (James Wilson/Thai News Pix/AFP)

Shift to maritime and air routes

Some trade has also been suspended along the Chinese border after three posts were seized by ethnic minority insurgents and other rebel forces who launched an offensive in northeast Myanmar in October. 

“The impact is significant for all merchants, both in terms of imports and exports,” said a fruit trader, who preferred to remain anonymous for safety reasons. “Approximately 90 percent of the fruit sector relies on sales to China.” 

In western Myanmar, trade with Bangladesh in some parts of Rakhine State “has come to a complete standstill,” according to one businessman.

A surge of fighting between junta troops and the rebel Arakan Army – which has attacked several junta posts on the Bangladesh border in recent months – has completely stifled border trade, the businessman said.

“All operations have ceased. We are unable to work under these conditions,” he said.

ENG_BUR_TradingPosts_04292024.4.JPG
Thai soldiers and members of the media take cover near the 2nd Thailand-Myanmar Friendship Bridge during fighting on the Myanmar side between the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and Myanmar's troops, which continues near the Thailand-Myanmar border, in Mae Sot, Tak Province, Thailand, April 20, 2024. (Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters)

Small businesses throughout Myanmar are feeling the effects of the disruption, a member of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry said.

A lot of traders are shifting their focus to sea and air routes to move goods despite the higher costs and longer waits, he added.

“In the current situation, people will undoubtedly find a way to trade,” he said. “If all stakeholders can collaborate and coordinate with mutual understanding, we may be able to overcome these obstacles and resume trade.”

Translated by Kalyar Lwin. Edited by Matt Reed and Taejun Kang.

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