Retailers push for beer and liquor imports

Frequent customer requests for foreign beer and liquor are leading members of the Myanmar Retailers Association to push for government permission to begin legal imports.

Opinion is divided on whether local substitutes are up to the job of replacing foreign tipple.Photo:StaffOpinion is divided on whether local substitutes are up to the job of replacing foreign tipple.

About 300 outlets from 22 different companies have joined in lobbying to begin legal imports and sales after they stopped sales on February 20, following what it says was pressure from the Tax Advisory Board and the Ministry of Commerce.

Imports of foreign alcohol are generally illegal in Myanmar, though there are loopholes for hotels and duty-free shops. Government officials had generally looked the other way on imports until launching a series of raids in late 2013.

Myanmar Retailers Association deputy chair U Myo Min Aung said the association’s members have received many customer complaints in the past three months since imported alcohol was pulled from the shelves.

“We are thinking and trying to import brands again. Customer demand is growing for foreign brands, and our members frequently complain that local shops are killing them with lower-quality local products made jointly by local producers,” he said.

U Myo Min Aung added domestic producers are not in a position to fill all the market gaps and different market segments.

The Ministry of Commerce pledged to provide legal avenues to liquor imports following its raids on importers in 2013 and 2014. Beginning in March this year, the Ministry of Commerce opened a legal import avenue only for wine imports, though so far companies are still working to obtain the necessary approvals to proceed. The ministry has also pledged to further open the market to beer and liquor imports, though no legal route to do so has been announced so far.

U Myo Min Aung said there is less demand for wine than for beer or liquor in the local market. “While demand is bigger for beer and alcohol, the government should set a respectful policy that is convenient for all sides,” he said.

Difficulty importing alcohol is not the only concern. The Ministry of Home Affairs has also restricted sale of new alcohol permits to liquor shops, resulting in a secondary market for the permits, with prices two or three times the official cost of the permits.

Ministry of Commerce adviser U Maung Aung said the ministry has not planned to freely give away licences to import beer or liquor, as opposed to wine, and the plan for the more popular alcohols may not be implemented immediately. Legal imports of beer and wine must await a separate Ministry of Commerce notification before they can begin.

“Importers must be accountable for these items. They need to guarantee the quality of brands, taxes, warehousing and many other things, so the ministry will not give a licence to all suppliers, even though demand is huge,” he said.

Source : Myanmar Tiimes

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