By Kyaw Ye Lynn
Gem traders in Myanmar are demanding the government halt jade mining in restive Kachin State after prices plummeted countrywide due to market saturation.
Authorities have said that many mining permits will not be renewed on expiration in the area following a series of deadly landslides and revelations of industry mismanagement, yet in the meantime mines continue to pump out more and more jade.
Talking to Anadolu Agency on Thursday, traders claim that markets have almost been destroyed as mining companies owned by the families of powerful military elites have now gone into overdrive, mass producing the gem stones in Hpakant and Lone Khin Townships in Kachin since 2014, and selling them direct to Chinese buyers.
More than 2,000 jade traders in three regions -- Mandalay, Sagaing and Kachin -- have subsequently signed a petition calling for a temporary ban on jade mining and direct exports to China.
“We sent the petition to the union government in Nay Pyi Taw,” Than Win, owner of Pwint Kaung Trading based in Myanmar’s second largest city Mandalay told Anadolu Agency on Thursday.
Mandalay is home to one of the country's major jade markets.
Than Win claimed that local markets in Mandalay, Sagaing, Hpakant and Lone Khin were seriously affected by the lack of high-quality jade, as the mining companies have been directly exporting uncut jade to China, by both legal and illegal channels.
In 2012, the Myanmar government temporarily banned jade mining when war resumed in the Kachin State between government troops and Kachin rebels – the Kachin Independent Army (KIA).
The ban was lifted in mid-2014 after the military seized control of Hpakant Township from the KIA.
“The jade demand and price increased because of the 2012 ban,” Than Win said. “That’s why we are asking the authority to do us a favor."
Myanmar has seen a fall in annual jade sales since record sales in 2014.
In 2016, around $600 million was made from annual gems sales (mainly jade), it made $1 billion in 2015, and around $3.4 billion in 2014.
Last month, authorities announced that mining permits will not be renewed on expiration, and no new permits will be granted until a reformed legal framework is in place, following a series of deadly landslides and continued revelations of corruption, cronyism and social harm in the industry.
An international anti-corruption and environmental advocacy group, Global Witness, welcomed the move as a major step towards reform of the country’s jade industry.
Global Witness said in its 2015 report -- Jade: Myanmar’s Big State Secret-- that relatives of former dictator Than Shwe and other senior government officials were benefitting financially from the sale of jade, which the group estimated at worth some $31 billion in 2014.
This would amount to about half of the country's official gross domestic product.
Official jade exports were worth around $1 billion dollars in the fiscal year 2013-14.