Trade Groups Raise Traffic Concerns as Yebu Gate Reopens

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The Yebu border trade inspection gate on the Lashio-Muse road has reopened for the first time in over five years as the government tries to honour a commitment to ending illegal trade. But inspecting hundreds of vehicles at a single small gate has resulted in serious traffic problems, say traders and local trade bodies.

Some 80 percent of Myanmar’s overland trade with China occurs through the 105-mile trade zone in Muse. Goods pass an official customs point, which involves some form of inspection, but illegal trading remains an issue.

Union Finance Minister U Kyaw Win in an address to ministers and the business community last week said the government was intent on reducing black market trade, which deprives the country of tax revenue.

As part of the effort to clamp down on illegal trade the government has reopened the Yebu border trade inspection gate, which was closed by the previous administration in 2011.

Eleven inspection groups were formed by the customs department under direction from the Ministry of Finance and Planning, and a two-week “education period” to inform traders and officials about the new focus on illegal trade flows started on January 16.

Inspection at the gate is concentrated solely on the legality of the goods being shipped.

Over 3000 vehicles every day pass through the 50 acre 105-mile zone at Muse, where the profusions of trucks and cars carrying everything from strawberries to squid frequently causes traffic jams, according to U Htay Oo, chair of the Muse-Namkham Border Trade Chamber of Commerce.

Forcing these vehicles to also stop at the Yebu gate – only one-fifth of the size of the 105-mile trading zone – has made things even worse, he said. Even if the gate inspects each vehicle for only five minutes and runs 24 hours it would only be able to inspect 288 vehicles, U Htay Oo said.

Regardless of inspection times, the gate’s small size also creates delays, he added.

“The gate is narrow,” said truck driver Ko Moe Oo. “If there are two 12-wheel trucks there then it’s full and you’ll get congestion.”

The traffic issues and delays will raise transport costs and be a source of severe annoyance for traders, said U Htay Oo.

The chamber has made a formal request to the state counselor, president and various ministries that the Yebu inspection gate only be opened once there has been proper considering of the situation on the ground, he said.

But U Tat Tun Aung, deputy director at the customs department and the man in charge of the Yebu inspection gate, said that not every truck would be inspected. Instead inspections will be random, or informed by information supplied to the authorities, he said.

“Today [January 18] we chose a vehicle for inspection and it took around 10 minutes,” he said. “Some vehicles [with illegal goods] might escape inspection, but even if it escapes 10 times it only takes one inspection for it to be confiscated and [the driver] fined according to customs procedures.”

Although the inspection gate is only focused on checking for black market trade, there is still a shortage of labour for inspections, he said. Loading and unloading can take time, and it is possible that other public sector workers – such as the fire brigade – could be involved, he said.

Receiving information from the public is key to making informed inspections, he added, and phone numbers will be published so that informants can contact ward officials, local administrations and even Hluttaw representatives.

The authorities are also holding consultations with local people in the area about how best they can help catch illegal traders, said U Tat Tun Aung.

U Htay Oo, however, suggests that the customs operations at the 105-mile zone be expanded to include X-ray machines and skilled inspection officials. Any checks on the Lashio road, he said, should not be conducted without making sure that traffic is not affected.

 

Source: Myanmar Times
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