Chairman, Myanmar Gems and Jewellery Entrepreneurs’ Association
The gems and jewellery sector makes an important contribution to the economy, supporting thousands of businesses which employ millions of people. Mizzima’s Juliet Shwe Gaung spoke to U Yone Mu, the chairman of the Myanmar Gems and Jewellery Entrepreneurs’ Association, in a wide-ranging interview that touched on plans for value-adding to boost export earnings and the effect on the industry of US sanctions.
Has 2014 been a good year for the gems and jewellery industry?
The market for gems and jewellery has been cool in 2014. Sales were flat, but prices did not go down even though production costs have been rising year by year. Only if other business is good do people tend to buy gems.
Tell me about the association’s plan to add value to exports?
The market for our finished products is weak. Buying markets such as Hong Kong and Thailand do not have the raw materials but they have created a market using raw materials from Myanmar. As we have ample supplies of raw materials we are planning to develop a market for finished products. We may face some challenges as we do not yet have the necessary technology. We plan to begin bringing in experts from overseas to work with us to help develop the market for value-added products. At Shwe Kyar Pin [finished gems and jewellery market] in Nay Pyi Taw, we have brought experts from China who are showing us how to make finished jade products. By bringing in foreign experts to work with our people we are slowly moving toward the market for value-adding our products. The association has established a laboratory at the Myanmar Gems Museum in Yangon. We also plan to establish branches or sales centres for finished products in cities such as Mandalay, Sagaing and Nay Pyi Taw, as well as at Mogok and Myitkyina, because of their importance to the ruby and sapphire and jade mining sectors, respectively. We want to build awareness in the market that the best place to buy Myanmar gems and jewellery is in Myanmar.
The Myanmar Gemstone Law is being amended. Will the changes support the production of value-added products?
We have proposed amendments aimed at encouraging value-added products. Our suggestion has been to either increase the tax on sales of raw materials or reduce the sales tax on value-added products. Currently, the sales tax on raw materials and value added products is 10 percent.
Apart from adding value, what other plans does the association have to develop the industry?
We are trying to open a bank to support the development of the gems sector. Access to finance will benefit gems industry entrepreneurs, especially the small-scale workshops, by helping them to buy equipment as well as raw materials. We are discussing the bank plan with experts.
US sanctions still apply to gems from Myanmar. What effect do they have on the industry?
In our association there are more than 9,000 members. The number of people indirectly or directly employed in the gems and jewellery industry is about 3 million. We are preparing to gather data on the number of people directly employed by the industry. Gems are a natural resource and we are working openly and legally. We do not understand why sanctions are imposed on gems. They are affecting millions of people and I think they should be reconsidered. But the sanctions have little effect on the market for jade, because it is mainly sold to China.