Activists applaud ministry move to shake-up jade industry as ‘game-changer’

Activists have hailed the government’s decision to shake up the multi-billion dollar jade industry as a ground-breaking opportunity to stop human rights abuses and increase transparency, the Thomson Reuters Foundation reported last week.

However, the activists said that more needed to be done to create a more inclusive economy in Myanmar.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation said on July 26 that the government will not renew mining permits for jade and gems and no new permits will be issued until by-laws are approved for the Myanmar Gemstone Law, media reports said.

“This is a game changer,” Mr Juman Kubba, senior campaigner at the British-based charity Global Witness, said of the announcement, Thomson Reuters reported.

In a widely-publicised report last October, Global Witness estimated the value of the jade industry in 2014 at US$31 billion, or almost half of Myanmar’s economic output. Official exports that year to China, the main buyer of the precious stone, totalled $12 billion, with most shipments crossing the border illegally. Global Witness said.

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The report said the jade trade, centred on Hpakant in Kachin State, was being controlled by networks of military elites, drug lords and crony companies. A struggle over control of the industry was also a factor in the conflict between the Tatmadaw and the Kachin Independence Organisation, Thomson Reuters said.

Mr Matthieu Salomon, Myanmar manager for US-based charity, the Natural Resource Governance Institute, said the government announcement opened the door to reform of the gemstone industry.

“It has the opportunity now to set up a framework for a responsible and sustainable business, which forms part of a broader, more inclusive economy for Myanmar,” Salomon told Thomson Reuters.

Campaigners urged the government to follow the announcement with an agreement on how to share the benefits of the jade industry in a transparent way.

As a participant in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, a global standard to promote accountable management of natural resources, Myanmar should publish more data on permit holders, owners of jade companies and detailed sales records, the NRGI said.v

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