Liquor drought before wine plan

The foreign liquor drought has continued for weeks since a late February move by some retailers to pull booze off the shelves, after promises of legalised imports did not materialise.

Officials from the Myanmar Retailers Association head office in Yangon said they remain hopeful the government will pursue an explicit policy on alcohol imports that will be in line with a market economy.

Foreign alcohol imports are currently banned, though distributors had been using loopholes in the law to bring in alcohol. Authorities cracked down on this practice in late 2013, claiming to be planning ways to legalise the exports in the future.

The plans have not yet materialised, however, and last month a number of prominent retailers stripped the alcohol from their shelves. Government officials have said the main concern is the prevalence of fakes on the market, though Myanmar Retailers Association officials say it is not fakes or rising taxes on alcohol that caused them to empty the shelves.

U Nay Myo Than Tin, an official at Myanmar Retailers Associations with responsibilities in Mandalay Region, said the decision by some liquor shops to stop selling alcohol was made individually, not across the association’s entire membership.

Stores which took alcohol off the shelves are facing customer complaints that they cannot meet demand.

“Our trouble is that we haven’t received any updated information from government ministries or a new explicit policy yet,” he said. “We have only seen a short piece of news in state media last week, so we can’t tell what we will do.”

The Global New Light of Myanmar reported last week that wine imports will be allowed soon, with an announcement coming in March to register local companies.

Citing Daw Tin San Yi, director of the Ministry of Commerce’s Directorate of Trade, the report said that local companies with proper permits and a contract with foreign partners will be entitled to apply for wine import licences at the Directorate of Trade. The report added licences will be valid for one year, with imports restricted to sea and air routes and alcohol content of from 7 to 20 percent.

U Tin Win, managing director of Central Hotel and joint secretary general of the Myanmar Hotelier Association, said hotels can also suffer liquor shortages even though they can currently obtain import licences.

“As we have few customers for our liquor and there are many steps to importing, we must buy from suppliers – it is difficult to import ourselves,” he said.

Hotels frequently buy alcohol from duty-free shops for their customers who prefer foreign brands. U Tin Win said he hopes obstacles to imports are removed in the future.

Complicating efforts to create a liquor policy are the large number of government departments involved in setting it up.

Ministry of Commerce director U Win Myint said it is not just his ministry but other departments concerned with internal revenue, customs and logistics that are involved in the trade. He added the Ministry of Commerce has announced plans since last November to begin wine imports, but customs and internal revenue restrictions remain.

“The probable issue is the government has shown imports the green light, but some problems remain in the private sector,” he said. “Besides, different departments are not cooperating with its procedures on the issue.”

The government is particularly concerned on the problem of fake alcohol, though data on the subject is scare and it is therefore difficult to control.

“If we officially allow and collect data from imports, as well as supply and consumption, it will be much easier to control fakes,” he said.

Compounding the private sector’s difficulties is the increasing number of tourists visiting the country, many of whom are keen on consuming foreign tipple.

U Nay Lin, managing director of Sein Lan Kabar Company and vice chair of the Myanmar Restaurant Association, said hotels face more trouble when they have more foreign customers.

“We are careful to only accept goods from suppliers that have valid import licences and tax-paid seals,” he said.

Myanmar Industries Association chair U Zaw Min Win said in his association’s opinion it would like to see imports legalised as soon as possible, but the government is currently discuss the problem to ensure they are managing every potential part of the issue.

Source: Myanmar Times

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