Junta restricts car imports in bid to stabilise plummeting kyat 

The coup regime has restricted car imports in a bid to stabilise the Myanmar kyat, which plummeted to record lows this week thanks to economic turmoil caused by the military’s February 1 power grab, vehicle distributors have said.

The move, a return to a policy of the previous dictatorship that was lifted in 2012, comes as the price of a US dollar reached roughly 2,700 kyat on the unofficial market on Wednesday and demand for the reserve currency spikes. Before the coup, a US dollar cost around 1,400 kyat. 

“I heard on Friday that they revoked individual car import permissions,” one distributor told Myanmar Now. 

It looked likely that other types of permission that allow organisations and businesses to import cars would also be scrapped and that vehicles would become more expensive, he added. 

“We still don’t know about the other types of permission but everyone’s saying that they will do the same for them as well. So prices are going to be higher no matter what.”

The coup regime has not officially announced the new restrictions, but a document purportedly submitted to the military council by the commerce ministry outlining the bans has circulated on social media. 

Individual car import permissions and permissions to import new cars by surrendering old ones were to be revoked by September 27 to control rising dollar and fuel prices, the document said, adding that import permissions for car show rooms would be revoked by October 1.

Yan Myo Aung, secretary of the Yangon branch of the Automobile Manufacturers And Distributors Association, said wealthy people were now buying more vehicles, which will further push up car prices and increase scarcity amid the import restrictions.  

The local price of gold has also risen recently as people lose faith in both banks and the kyat and look for a safe haven for their savings. 

Fuel prices, meanwhile, have risen dramatically since the days before the February coup thanks to the increasing cost of the dollar. 

The junta-controlled central bank has sold tens of millions of dollars of reserves in a bid to strengthen the kyat.

Win Thaw, the central bank’s vice chair, told the BBC on August 16 that plans were underway to restrict imports, as well to take action against people manipulating market prices and hoarding goods. 

In a press conference on Monday, coup leader Min Aung Hlaing called for a reduction in the use of both foreign currency and fuel in Myanmar, adding that he wanted to see greater use of renewable energies like wind, solar and hydropower. 

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