Traders seek to recoup losses on K5 billion in seized rice

About 50 rice traders from Mandalay Region and Katha, Banmauk, Htigyaing and Kawlin townships in Sagaing Region said their partner’s detention for the past two months has hurt their business.

Their meeting at the Banmauk rice traders association office on Wednesday was attended by National League for Democracy MPs from Banmauk. U Aung Thein, who represents Banmauk in the Pyithu Hluttaw, told the meeting that for the sake of good bilateral relations, China should follow the example of Myanmar, which set free within eight days Chinese who were detained for smuggling timber in 400 vehicles.

U Mike, a rice trader from Mandalay, said he lost 640,500 yuan (K130 million) in missed rice exports to China due to Ma Nan Aye Lu’s arrest.

“Twenty-six rice traders from Banmauk have suffered losses. Mandalay has three. U Aung Thein told the rice traders that the NLD will try its best to free Sai Aiak Thar and Ma Nan Aye Lu. They will report the case to State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi through the Kachin State Hluttaw chairman, who was at the meeting,” he said.

Ma Nan Aye Lu was detained by Chinese authorities when she passed through Muse border crossing in Shan State on June 11. The Chinese bust was aimed at 27 gangs suspected of smuggling about 300,000 tonnes of rice from Myanmar and Vietnam, according to a statement by China’s General Administration of Customs (GAC).

The GAC on June 12 dispatched over 400 police officers to more than 20 locations in Chongqing municipality and the provinces of Yunnan, Guangdong, Hubei and Shaanxi in a crackdown on rice smuggling, according to Xinhua News Agency, and seized an estimated 300,000 tonnes of smuggled rice worth about 1.25 billion yuan (US$184 million/K252.2 billion).

Preliminary investigations showed that since 2014, the gangs had purchased rice in Myanmar and Vietnam before smuggling it across the borders into Yunnan and Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, according to the GAC.

“She was detained for suspected gambling. We have known Ma Nan Aye Lu for 10 to 15 years. She is honest. She is ethnic Shan and works for money-delivery services as well as the China rice trade,” he said.

U Mike denied a rumour that Ma Nan Aye Lu holds identification cards for China as well as Myanmar. “She has a Myanmar ID only,” he said.

“We could recover 30-45 percent of our losses, according to the Banmauk rice association. If Ma Nan Aye Lu is freed, she could collect payment for the rice from the traders in China,” U Mike said.

The rice price declined by K30,000 per tonne soon after the bust in June, and the rice trade almost stopped in the border area.

“Small-scale traders also suffered losses. We can stand the loss, but some small-scale traders have to repay loans. The impact is being felt by rice millers and rice farmers,” he said.

According to Myanmar traders, Chinese border officials began seizing cargo from nearly every truck, launching a crackdown three times a year on a trade that had been steadily growing in importance.

“This was a big bust for rice smuggling to China. Merchants in Mandalay and Banmauk, Kawlin and Wuntho in Sagaing lost because of their ties to the smuggler in China. They haven’t the staff for selling rice in China, so they contacted her,” said U Sai Kyaw, secretary of the Rice Merchants Association of Mandalay.

Myanmar has exported rice to China under a quota system since fiscal year 2014-15, but most merchants haven’t seen any benefits because of a high tax imposed by China.

“The Chinese tax on rice is K8000 on a K20,000 50-kilogram bag. That’s why traders do not prefer legal shipping. The tax is too high for us,” he said.

U Mike said Myanmar rice traders also pay a 2 percent tax to Myanmar authorities. “The Chinese know when the rice comes into their region. There are 800 CCTVs at the border gate. They detain whoever they want.”

According to export data, roughly 12.2 million tonnes of rice was exported in FY2015-16.

Myanmar’s rice exports are generally of lower quality than those of its competitors Vietnam, Thailand and Pakistan.

However, buyers, particularly in remote Yunnan province, have been willing to pay top dollar for even poor-quality Myanmar rice for use in food processing, so Myanmar’s rice exports to China have grown since 2011.

Source: The Global New Light of Myanmar