Burmese officials target illegal Thai imports

Burmese authorities have widened their assault on illegally imported goods from Thailand to inner regions of the country following a crack down at border trading points.

Police and customs officials are reportedly targeting grocery store owners stocking beer, liquor, soft drinks, cooking oil and tinned food. One shop owner in the town of Tavoy, capital of Burma’s southern Tenasserim division, told DVB that police were confiscating ‘restricted’ goods that carry no official tax.

Shops along the border had been able to bribe officials to continue selling the goods, he said, but the past six months had seen an intensification of the crackdown. Another trader said that while some goods were allowed across the border, their distribution in deeper Burma was prohibited.

“Goods entering Tachilek [in Burma’s northeastern Shan state] are normally sent from to Kengtung and Taunggyi [towns],” said a Kengtung local. “But we heard freight trucks were not allowed to leave. We don’t know the reason for sure.”

The crackdown has caused prices of basic foodstuffs to soar: a bag of rice previously bought for US$6 in Tachilek now costs US$28, the local said. It follows the closure by Burmese authorities of a major border checkpoint in Myawaddy in eastern Burma’s Karen state, close to Thailand’s Mae Sot.

A dispute has erupted between the Thai and Burmese governments over Thailand’s construction of a river dyke along the Moei river, which marks a section of the shared border.

Vehicles had last week been banned from crossing the Friendship Bridge into Burma, and last weekend passengers on foot were also blocked. Burma is believed to be unhappy with the construction of the dyke on the Thai side of the river because it can cause erosion on its side.

Rangoon-based economist Khin Maung Nyo said however that the drop in border trade “was not unusual”.

“The government has to balance out the factors while shops and consumers don’t really think about trading policy; they will still do their business when they see a profit can be made. Also, the border cannot be shut down forever – there will still be a flow of goods.”

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