Commerce ministry issues foreign liquor import guidelines in Myanmar
The Ministry of Commerce on May 25 issued regulations designed to relax Myanmar’s decades-old ban on alcohol imports.
The ministry’s “Guidelines for the Importation of Foreign Liquor” allows foreign spirits with the cost, insurance and freight value of US$8 or above to be brought in from Yangon ports and the Yangon International Airport.
“Before, alcohol and beer and cigarettes were not allowed to be imported. It is now permissible to import liquor,” said U Ko Ko Naing, deputy director of the Ministry of Commerce.
Imports of spirits have been tightly restricted in Myanmar since 1962. The current ban was introduced by the military government in 1995. U Thein Sein’s government permitted the import of wines in late 2015, but only hotels and duty-free outlets have been allowed to import spirits and beer until now.
But while the import of foreign liquor is now permitted, the General Administration Department is still drafting an Excise Law which will regulate the distribution and sale of foreign liquors within the country. The law will need both the cabinet and parliament’s approval before becoming effective. For now, the draft bill has yet to be made public.
Still, the liberalisation is a step forward in paving the way for more direct foreign investments in the beverage industry. It also deals a blow to the thriving black market for foreign liquors in Myanmar.
The new guidelines are intended to rein in illicit trade, improve tax revenue and improve consumer safety, according to the ministry’s notification.
“There isn’t a problem for us if the government can crackdown on illicit liquor,” said U Soe Lwin, chair of the Myanmar Liquor Association.
He said there is a lot of illicit trade in the market right now and these illicit players do not have quality guarantee and do not pay taxes.”
If there were effective enforcement of tax collection, alcohol prices in the market would rise but the demand will remain the same, U Soe Lwin added.
U Myo Win Than, Myanmar Hotelier Association joint secretary-general, welcomed the guidelines and said it is a positive development that hotels can now purchase those products legally for their customers.
The illicit sales of foreign alcohol have led to a loss of government tax revenue, hotel owners say. Most foreign guests in the hotels are more likely to consume foreign liquors than those produced domestically.