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Mizzima: Illegal business prospers

Illegal business prospers in Bangladesh-Burma border

Dhaka, May 18, 2000
Mizzima News Group

Official figures showed that total volume of trade between Bangladesh
and Burma rose from about US $ 1 million in 1991-92 to US $ 13 million
in 1994-95, but fell below US $ 4 million in 1995-96. In 1997-98, it
rose to about US $ 10 million, but showing a deficit of US $ 7 million
against Bangladesh.

Border trade volume between the two countries was about US $ 1.13
million in 1996-97 but slid down to US $ 0.39 million in 1998-99.

In October last year, Burmese Commerce Minister Major General Kyaw Than
paid a five-day visit to Bangladesh to boost the bilateral trade. During
his visit, the two countries agreed to establish road, air and naval
communications between the two neighbours to foster bilateral trade.
Major General Kyaw Than also urged Bangladeshi entrepreneurs to invest
in agro-related field in Burma.

The border trade between Burma and Bangladesh started in 1994 following
an agreement between the governments of two countries. Although there is
a potential for the growth, the present trade flow is far below the
potential with the volume of illegal trade fast increasing year to year
while legal border trade is yet to pick up.

Legal Border Trade:

According to Custom records in Taknaf border town, between January 1999
to January 2,000, worth of goods exported to Burma by Bangladesh was
some Taka 32 lakhs and from Burma to Bangladesh was some 29 Crores.

Cement, iron and construction materials, jute and electronic goods are
exported from Bangladesh to Burma and male/female slippers, eatables,
onion, spices, garlic, ginger, beetle nuts, dry chilly, and forest
products are imported from Burma.

Illegal Border Trade

There are three kinds of illegal trade going on across the
Bangladesh-Burma border. Firstly, between 100 to 150 traders who hold
official trading passes cross the border from Moung Taw township in
Arakan State to Bangladesh everyday. One can get a trading pass within
24 hours by paying Taka 3,000 in Bangladesh and Kyat 6,000 in Burma. One
can stay upto 3 days in each side if US $ 1 is officially paid as border
pass fee.

By bribing the army units and custom personnel in both sides, they
smuggle Burmese clothing, cosmetics, and household goods worth four
hundred to five hundred lakhs Kyats everyday to Bangladesh.

They in return take back the smuggled goods from Bangladesh (estimated
to be Taka 15 lakhs worth everyday) after bribing custom, police, and
some gangs in Taknaf.

The second kind of illegal border trade is through the sea route across
the Naaf River. Timber, rice, cow and buffaloes are being smuggled from
Arakan State, Tennasarim Division and Delta region via sea route to
Bangladesh. According to statistics available from the wholesale dealers
in Bangladesh, the volume of this trade is estimated to be Taka 40-50
Crores every month.

The third kind is smuggling of non-included goods (in the border trade
list) under the shadow of legal border trade. For example, Chinese-made
batteries, slippers, medicines, cigarettes, and other daily-use goods
are being smuggled by the Burmese and Arakan traders to Bangladesh.
According to local newspapers, large-scale smuggling of Chinese-made dry
cell batteries from Burma has posed a serious threat to the existence of
local battery industries in Bangladesh. Some 700,000 pieces of dry cell
batteries are being smuggled into Bangladesh from Burma every month.

Moreover, Bangladesh traders smuggle Phensydle (cough syrups),
contraceptives, clothes and eatables from Bangladesh to Arakan State of
Burma via sea route. According to local traders in Sittwe town, the
Municipal Market in Sittwe town has the smuggled goods from Bangladesh
worth Kyat 400-500 Crores.

Although the authorities in Burma are well in know of this huge volume
of illegal trading, there is no arrest or attempt to block the illegal
trade. The police, custom and army units are in fact benefiting by
receiving bribes from the traders.

There are, however, some check-posts in the Bangladesh side,
particularly between Taknaf and Cox's Bazar. Sometimes, custom and
Bangladesh Defence Rifles (BDR) launch surprise searches on this
Taknaf-Cox's Bazar road and tens of lakhs-worth of smuggled goods are
seized a day. On 26 February this year, two truckloads of Chinese-made
towels, torchlight, batteries, shoulder bags and Burmese goods worth of
more than Taka 80 lakhs were seized by Bangladesh police near Cox's
(One Taka is equivalent to about 7 Burmese currency Kyats and the rate
of dollar exchange is Kyat 350 to 380 in open market.)