Handicrafts Prospects Good, but Low Price, Illegal Exports Hurt

Myanmar has a long tradition of producing handicrafts ranging from wood carving to lacquerware to sword making, but this has been slow to turn into an organised industry even as the market for these items has risen.

Myanmar’s handicraft market for both local and foreign buyers has grown in the last couple of years, and venues to buy those items have expanded from historical pagodas and Bogyoke market to art galleries and shopping malls.

There are still vibrant art cultures such as the carving village in Darrpain in Hlegu township in Yangon region, where the profession of almost all villagers is carving, regardless of the market situation.

Traditional arts of Myanmar, which is known as “ten arts” (Pan-se-myo), are preserved by people in this village until this day as the techniques are passed down to youths from generation to generation.

The prices of handicrafts are low in Myanmar, especially for wood carvings, although they are to a high standard. However, that makes it difficult for youths to enter the profession, essential for producing a new generation of artists.

Many young wood carving artists have moved to carving shops in China for work, highlighting that Myanmar carvings do not get a good price.

Other carvings are trafficked illegally across borders and sold out at high price outside of the country. Handicrafts from Myanmar frequently end up in China, being sold as local crafts.

U Thardu, chairman of Myanmar Handicraft Art Association, told Myanmar Business Today, “Exhibitions are held here [in Myanmar] and carvings are sold. But the carvings which are not sold at the exhibition are trafficked illegally across the border.

“It shows that there are weaknesses regarding intellectual property regulations. It is also a big hindrance for the development of the market. Still, we need to improve the quality and quantity [of Myanmar handicrafts].”

Exporters of carvings say that the procedure to allow legal trading should be made easy, paving the way for relevant taxes to be collected. “We mainly sell to China and Thailand. China imports a lot but there are other large markets in Europe. But firstly we need to improve quality,” an exporter of handicrafts told Myanmar Business Today, asking not to be named.

U Myint Soe, director of Policy, Planning and Statistics Unit under the Trade Improvement Department, said, “Applying for a licence is not that difficult. Legal traders are sure to profit from the benefits provided by the government. Also, this way the country can receive more tax.”

The handicrafts market has also been some increase in local demand. U Thardu said that carvings were not so popular in the local market before but they are getting popular now as people have started to use them as decorative items.

U Maung Maung Aung, owner of Aung Wood Tun Collection, told Myanmar Business Today, “Hand carving arts are nowadays included while decorating local buildings. So the local demand has increased somewhat. But the small shops still rely on tourists.

“The prices of Myanmar hand carvings are low compared to their quality. We have to change that.”

Source: Myanmar Business Today

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