Ministry of Commerce launches raids on illegal beer imports

Unease over the import of foreign alcohol and tobacco still hangs like a haze over the sin industry. In part because of the desire to protect local brands, the government is still reluctant to let in foreign beer or wine, sources confirm.

Though the Ministry of Commerce said it would allow wine imports earlier this year, retailers want to broaden the appeal of their shelves. U Myo Min Aung, spokesperson for the Myanmar Retailers’ Association, has pointed out that his members have to supply 300 outlets and 22 supermarkets. But he said that, under pressure from the Tax Advisory Board and the commerce ministry, those stores stopped selling beer and other liquors in February.

MRA executive member U Aung Naing Myint, who owns a retail shop in Mandalay, said many foreign brands of alcohol on sale in retail chains were illegal and had no tax labels. “The liquor market is booming,” he said. “It’s also illegal.”

MRA members pressed for permission to import wine last month, but the ministry is still considering the proposal, he said. This entails checking bottles against code numbers to verify authenticity, and fakes amid the vodka and the scotch from across the border keep turning up, he said,

“Mobile teams don’t normally raid shops or warehouses. They stop deliveries en route, and they usually find foreign beer,” he said.

Ruby Mart in Kyauktada township, which is owned by Myanma Economic Holdings Ltd, stopped selling foreign brands, including Chang and other illegal imported beers, last year.

U Win Myint, director of the Ministry of Commerce, said they held a workshop with suppliers and retailers in July about how to open up the market for liquors and cigarettes, but so far without much in the way of results.

“The discussion [on whether to allow more exports or not] is still confidential. It’s not going to happen any time soon even if they do allow it, because we also have to think about the downside,” he said.

Meanwhile, the ministry’s journal Commerce this week reported that a mobile team had seized a lorry carrying about 4100 bottles of illegally imported alcohol to Yangon from Thailand by way of Myawaddy. Another story concerns a team that seized motorcycles ferrying about 180 cases of beer from Thailand to upper Myanmar.

U Win Myint said the mobile teams targeted products that dodged taxes or licence fees, usually on the road to their markets in Yangon and Mandalay.

Chang is a favourite brand in Myanmar and cheaper than others without tax charges, about K550 for a small can compared to not less than K750 for other brands.

Source: Myanmar Times

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