RANGOON — The Burmese government says it has seized more than 17 billion kyats (US$17 million) worth of smuggled imported and exported products over the past 20 months.
The seizures were made by more than 600 officials from the national police and the Ministry of Commerce who formed mobile teams in 2012 to inspect cross-border trade.
“Mostly we have seized products smuggled between China and Burma,” Nyunt Aung, a leader of the mobile teams, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday.
The most common illegal imports were frozen foods, home appliances and electronics, he said, while tobacco, alcohol, drugs and chemical products were less commonly smuggled into the country. From Burma, officials seized illegally exported jade, gems, forestry products and live animals, he added.
The mobile teams have set up checkpoints in Shan State border towns including Muse, Kengtung and Tachileik. There is also a checkpoint in the town of Tamu, along the Indian border, and at seven jetties in Rangoon.
Despite frequent illegal trade between Thailand and Burma, especially via Myawaddy in Karen State, no checkpoints have been established in Karen State and Mon State.
“We don’t have checkpoints along the Thai- Burma border because there is not adequate security for us,” Nyunt Aung said, adding that a checkpoint was established in Bago Division instead. “All trucks need to pass this checkpoint from the border station.”
Of the 17 billion kyats in products seized over the past 20 months, 14 billion kyats of products were seized by mobile teams, while the remaining were seized by state and divisional government officials.
The mobile teams plan to expand their operations to the Rangoon airport, the Mandalay airport and a jetty in Mandalay. They will also set up checkpoints in Tenasserim and Irrawaddy divisions. A budget has been allocated to buy X-ray machines to aid inspections.
Since the 2011-12 fiscal year, about 3.9 billion kyats worth of jade and other gems have been confiscated, along with more than 1 billion kyats worth of smuggled timber and 971 million kyats worth of mobile handsets, according to statistics from the mobile teams.
The seized products are inspected and passed on to relevant government ministries, which auction many of the goods off to the public. In other cases, goods are disposed of completely.
“Some frozen imported foods need to be destroy at once before they are handed to consumers, and also some unsuitable snacks imported from China need to be destroyed before they reach Burmese children,” Nyunt Aung said.
Last year, mobile teams began raiding retail warehouses in Rangoon and Mandalay to investigate the legal status of imported alcohol, tobacco and preserved frozen foods.
Burma’s import and export law includes punishments of up to three years in prison for illegal importers and exporters.
The Ministry of Commerce allows cross-border traders to legally import 10 million kyats worth of goods weekly if they pay a tax. Legal trade is increasing with China and Thailand, according to the Ministry of Commerce, which reported US$18.4 billion worth of traded goods in the 2012-13 fiscal year compared with $24.9 billion in the 2013-14 year.
“As long as we do strict inspections at our checkpoints, total legal border trade volume will continue to increase,” Nyunt Aung said.