Exports at Myanmar’s most important overland trade route have plummeted by $534m over the past year because of China’s shutdown of border gates at the Muse 105 Mile Trade Zone, new figures from the junta-controlled commerce ministry show.
Four of the five gates at Muse have been closed since April last year while the fifth was shuttered in July as Covid-19 cases surged across Myanmar.
Myanmar’s total export revenues at Muse fell to a little over $2.4bn for the past financial year, down from $2.95bn the year before.
Min Thein, vice president of the Muse Rice Wholesale Centre, said large amounts of rice and beans intended for export to China are now sitting in storage.
“All we could do was unload the trucks, put the stuff in the warehouse and wait for the gate to open,” he said.
Importers, truck drivers and warehouse workers have also faced hardship because of the shutdown.
Traders hope that China will reopen the border gates to trucks soon following the completion of a new 1,000-bed Covid treatment and quarantine center in Muse. Construction work on the center finished earlier this month but it has yet to open.
No one in Muse knows when the borders will open again, Min Thein said.
“I think the Muse gates are going to open only when our side becomes a Covid-free zone,” said the owner of an export business based in Mandalay.
Traders say the closures have fuelled a depreciation of the kyat against the yuan, as demand for Myanmar currency plummets along with exports. The kyat has also plummeted against major currencies amid economic turmoil caused by the February 1 coup.
Exports to China through Muse are made up largely of agricultural produce like rice, beans, and fruit, while Myanmar imports medications, electronics and construction materials via the overland route.
Myanmar has a total of 24 overland trading zones, which generated about $10bn in trade revenues this year, a drop of $1.3bn from last year.