Despite nearly a year of uncertainty, Myanmar’s trade volume has managed to weather the COVID-19 pandemic relatively well, according to Minister of Commerce U Than Myint. In a meeting held this week, the minister claimed Myanmar’s trade totaled USD 36 billion during the 2019-2020 fiscal year, exceeding its target of USD 33 billion as well as last year’s trade total of USD 34 billion.
The exceeded target came during a highly uncertain pandemic period in which a global economic downturn battered foreign demand and coronavirus containment measures stalled key trade routes. For example, exporters to China, especially merchants of rice and other agricultural goods, faced tighter border restrictions and stricter requirements for approved merchants. Yet where trade in some areas fell, Myanmar managed to capitalize on other opportunities, including with ASEAN neighbors.
Trade with ASEAN rose as Myanmar sought non-Chinese buyers for its crops. Thailand and Singapore were the largest of these buyers. The fiscal year also saw increased demand for crops from Bangladesh and India, which recently extended its bean export quota for Myanmar farmers and sellers.
Yet the new fiscal year is off to an inauspicious start as a new round of pandemic lockdowns and restrictions have throttled border crossings and stalled internal shipping routes with China traders reporting a threefold increase in trading fees and Thai villagers in Mae Sot organizing protests against trade with Myanmar for fear of imported COVID-19.