Myanmar: Illicit trade is a scar of the face of the global trading system
Despite the importance of international trade as an enginefor economic growth, development and poverty reduction, very little attention has been given to the substantial negative impacts of illicit trade.
From smuggling, counterfeiting and tax evasion, to the illegal sale or possession of goods,services, humans and wildlife, illicit trade is compromising the attainment of economic and social development goals in significant ways, crowding out legitimate economic activity, depriving governments of revenues for investment in vital public services, dislocating millions of legitimate jobs and causing irreversible damage to ecosystems and human lives.
In Myanmar, illicit trade is a major and multifaceted problem. From illegal logging and mining of gemstones like Jade, to alcohol smuggling, wildlife trafficking and counterfeiting of all types of consumer goods, the country faces numerous challenges with combatting illicit trade.In fact, our 2018 Global Illicit Trade Environment Indexranked Myanmar82nd of 84 countries evaluated on the extent they enable or prevent illicit trade.
Given the scale of the problem, I was pleased to learn that EuroCham Myanmar had established an Anti-Illicit Trade Advisory Group to fight illicit trade and intensify partnership with the Government of Myanmar.Naturally, I readily accepted their invitation to participate in the Anti-Illicit Trade Forum they hosted in Nay Pyi Taw last September. I considered these to be fundamentally important commitments in the fight against illicit trade, signaling the readiness of business to partner with government in the process.
One year later, I have the impression that progress is underway in Myanmar. I think the government is listening to our calls for an effective policy response to illicit trade, and I think they are responding to the recommendations we put forward in Nay Pyi Taw to increasecollaboration with the private sector, raise awareness and establish an interagency task force with high-level authority within the Union Government Office.
Consequently, the recent formation of the Illegal Trade Eradication Steering Committee, led by Myanmar Vice President U Myint Swe shows that the Government is taking this issue seriously through both political commitment and implementation. However, if the Steering Committee is going to be effective, the Vice President must exercise his authority and allocate the necessary financial and personnel resources to drive implementation of enforcement measures. It will be the responsibility of the Vice President to ensure that the 13 tasks delineated by the Steering Committee in June become priorities tomorrow.
In the balance lies the future of sustainable development in Myanmar. Illicit trade has far reaching consequences, with negative impacts on all aspects of society. Our recent TRACIT report, Mapping the Impact of Illicit Trade on the Sustainable Development Goals, shows how illicit trade in all its forms present significant deterrence to all 17 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – holding back progress, increasing costs and pushing achievement of the goals further away.
So, the time to act is now. The sweeping, negative impacts of illicit trade on Myanmar’s economic development will require sustained efforts from all stakeholders to achieve an effective response to this varied illegal activity.
This year’s 2019 EuroCham Anti-Illicit Trade Forum is a critical opportunity to keep the momentum going. In particular, I hope that EuroCham Myanmar’s Anti-Illicit Trade Advisory Group and the Illegal Trade Eradication Steering Committee can agree on priorities, establish methods of collaboration and work together to implement measures to stop illicit trade in Myanmar.
EuroCham Myanmar will host the 2nd edition of the Anti-Illicit Trade forum in Nay Pyi Taw on the 19th September.
This event is meant to assess the Anti-Illicit Trade societal and environmental impacts and its perspectives; An exhibition of counterfeit and smuggled goods alongside discussions will strive to improve the knowledge and understanding of the regulatory environment and economic circumstances that enable illicit trade and provide recommendations on priority areas.
Jeffrey Hardy is director general of Transnational Alliance to Combat Illicit Trade (TRACIT) and Marc de la Fouchardiere is executive director of the European Chamber of Commerce in Myanmar. TRACIT is an independent, business-led initiative to mitigate the economic and social damages of illicit trade by strengthening government enforcement mechanisms and integrating supply chain controls across industry sectors.