Myanmar's state jade sale rakes in $587 million

By AFP   July 7, 2016 | 04:06 am PT
Myanmar's state jade sale rakes in $587 million
Buyers check the quality of large jade stones at the annual gem stone exposition in Naypyidaw on July 6, 2016. Sales were reportedly down at the exposition compared to last year due to fewer Chinese buyers and lack of high quality stones. Photo by AFP/Aung Htet
Chinese buyers continue to drive a shadowy industry linked with rebel conflicts and notorious for perilous working conditions.

Lusted after by wealthy Chinese, Myanmar's jade mines were in the hands of the military and their "crony" elites during the junta years and are still believed to raise tens of billions of dollars in undeclared sales.

While the price of the green stone has slipped in recent months, thousands of poor migrant workers still risk their lives to comb unstable pits in northern Myanmar for jade fragments.

Hundreds of slabs of jade worth 527 million euros were bought during the 12-day sale in the capital Naypyidaw, according to government figures, with around six million euros-worth of gems and pearls also snapped up.

The event, which drew 895 Chinese companies, is the country's only official jade sale.

"We displayed fewer lots of jade than the previous emporium... so we also received less money than the previous one," Than Zaw Oo, of state-owned Myanma Gems Enterprise told AFP, without giving last year's sale total.

Anti-corruption campaigners say the real value of Myanmar's jade runs into the tens of billions of dollars annually.

Powerful syndicates linked to smuggling rings and rebel commanders slip tons of the precious stone across the northern border to China each year, depriving the state of huge sums of income.

Most of the world's best quality jadeite, the rarer and more expensive of two minerals containing jade, is mined in Hpakant, a strip of torn earth in Myanmar's insurgency-wracked northern Kachin state bordering China, a country with a voracious demand for the precious stone.

Jade is widely believed to be an important revenue stream for the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) which is resisting ceasefire overtures in its fight against Myanmar's army.

Jade mines have also long been a dangerous workplace for the itinerant miners who scratch a living from the stone, around 100 people died in a major landslide in November last year.

The falling price of jade in recent months has been attributed to customs action in China's border area, deterring smugglers and leading to a glut.

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