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Record sales from a gem emporium held last month in Burma’s secretive capital suggests that the sanctioned industry is buoyant.
Around 90 percent of the produce on sale was bought, the Weekly Eleven journal said. According to Reuters, sales figures totalled $US1.44 billion. with more than 9000 lots of jade sold, as well as 273 lots of gems and 237 lots of pearls.
“These are the highest proceeds from a single sale of jade, gems and pearls since 1964,” an official told Reuters. Foreigners reportedly accounted for some 4000 of the 6,700 traders at the fair.
Burma is thought to produce around 90 percent of the world’s jade and gems, much of which goes to China and other regional nations, such as Singapore.
Most of the produce comes from Burma’s ethnic regions, particularly the Hpakant mines in Kachin state where the desperate conditions for workers are almost as notorious as the precious stones it holds.
The majority of the mines here are run by the military. Some were handed over by the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) in a 1994 ceasefire deal aimed at granting the group autonomy. The government then issued licences to their chosen companies, estimated to number around 30 in Kachin state.
The US and EU banned imports of several of the commodities in October 2007, but the effectiveness of the embargo is hard to gauge, with retailers in the US known to boast of Burmese origins of their wares.
The ruling junta usually avoids publicising sales figures from the annual emporium, but it will be buoyed by the recent fair and likely eager to increase both exports and foreign investment in the sector, although rising tensions in Kachin state, where few benefits of the mining are evident, may well cause fear in the market.