Myanmar trade limited to Thai border as other crossings close

As battles between the military and resistance forces escalate, border gates to China, India and Bangladesh are no longer open and commercial routes are blocked

Many of Myanmar’s border trade routes have been blocked as resistance forces accelerate operations against the junta on several fronts. 

Myanmar previously traded through 17 gates to China, India, Thailand and Bangladesh, but business has reportedly stopped at all except the crossings along the Thai border, the biggest of which is located between Myawaddy in Karen State and Mae Sot in Thailand’s Tak Province. 

“Business has almost completely stopped on the other borders,” a Mandalay-based trader told Myanmar Now on Tuesday. “In fact, it’s been quite some time since trade with India stopped. It’s been 20 days in northern Shan State [on the Chinese border]. 

The Brotherhood Alliance of ethnic armed organisations—including the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, and the Arakan Army (AA)—launched a major offensive against the military along the China-Myanmar border on October 27, seizing control of strategic towns along the trade route, as well as more than 150 junta camps and bases. 

Resistance forces have blocked the main roads in the region to stop the arrival of junta reinforcements, halting trade access to China through the hubs of Muse and Chin Shwe Haw. 

Businesspeople have reportedly begun to explore the use of border gates to China in Mongla, eastern Shan State, as the armed organisation the National Democratic Alliance Army, which controls the area, declared that as of this week it will decrease taxes on commodities. 

Battles have also recently resumed in Rakhine State between the AA and the Myanmar army after a one-year informal ceasefire. The AA attacked and seized control of two bases under the military-backed Border Guard Force on Monday morning and intercepted two army trucks in Minbya Township in the renewed clashes.

The coastal state borders Bangladesh but also sees goods transported for export overland and via waterways to be distributed elsewhere, including China. However,these routes are increasingly inaccessible, according to sources in the industry.

“The borders in Rakhine State [to Bangladesh] are also closed now,” the trader from Mandalay said. “Rakhine State exported marine products to China through northern Shan State, but now they have to do so through cargo flights from Yangon. People are also planning to export goods using cargo flights from Mandalay, but I don’t think it will work anymore now that all the routes from Rakhine are blocked.”

Over the weekend, the Chin National Army, which operates in Chin State, including on the border with India, seized several Myanmar military posts in the Rihkhawdar area of Falam Township on the trade route, and announced that it had seized control of Rihkhawdar town on Tuesday.

According to data compiled by the junta’s commerce ministry, there were no recorded transactions using the Rihkhawdar gate on the border between Chin State and Mizoram during the 2022-2023 fiscal year. The total border trade transactions nationwide that year amounted to US$4.7 billion, according to the ministry. 

The blockage of trading routes and closure of gates could cause prices on exports from Myanmar to drop, as well as create greater scarcity of basic imported commodities including medicine, traders said. 

Without elaborating, the junta has declared that they have been allowing exports to and imports from China through other pathways due to “security matters.”

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