Myanmar, Bangladesh ‘fish, salt and areca nut diplomacy’
Posted on January 21st, 2023

Harunur Rasid

In the cross-border commerce with Bangladesh, Myanmar has been exporting more than it has been importing, with 8,620.7 tonnes of exports to Bangladesh valued at US$10.733 million between April and October of the fiscal year 2022–2023.

The two border checkpoints between Myanmar and Bangladesh, Sittway and Maungtaw, saw a 65 percent increase in the sale of fish from Myanmar and a 35 percent increase in the export of dried goods. Farm-raised rohu, hilsa, mackerel, dried anchovies, and dry fish powder are among the fishery products. Also exported are tamarind, onion, ginger, dried jujube powder, jaggery, longyi, and clothing.

With 8,620.7 tonnes of exports to Bangladesh valued at US$10.733 million between April and October of the fiscal year 2022–2023, Myanmar has been exporting more than it has been importing.

Rohu fish trade

Fish sales from Myanmar increased by 65% while exports of dried commodities increased by 35% at the two border crossings between Myanmar and Bangladesh, Sittway and Maungtaw. Among the fishing products are farm-raised rohu, hilsa, mackerel, dried anchovies, and dry fish powder. Tamarind, onion, ginger, dried jujube powder, jaggery, longyi, and textiles are further exports.

Bengalis have a long-standing bond with fish and rice; hence the Bengali proverb “fish and rice” is accurate in its actual sense. Fish has long been a staple of Bengali cuisine. Because rice is a basic diet for Bengalis and fish is a favorite dish on the daily menu, rice and fish have a tight relationship.

Bangladeshis depend on imported seafood from Burma. Without the cost-effective Burmese imports, Bangladeshis would not be able to afford fish for their daily meals because the price of local fish is skyrocketing.

The most common fish imported from Burma to Bangladesh are salmon, carp, and shrimp. These fish are first brought to Teknaf before being shipped to Chittagong, Dhaka, and other cities around the country. Additionally, Bangladesh receives substantial sums of money from the importation of seafood through the Teknaf land port.

Retail merchants in Chittagong bill customers between 160 and 200 takas per kilogram for their items. The most popular goods are salmon and Burmese carp. When Burmese fish is hard to find in the city’s markets, local fish prices increase.

In the first half (April to September) of the current fiscal year 2022–2023, Myanmar sent 5,195.2 tonnes of rohu to Bangladesh through the two cross-border crossings at Sittway and Maungtaw.

The value of Myanmar’s 5,180.6 tonnes of rohu exports for the six-month 2021–2022 mini-budget period was $6.314 million. The figures showed a slight increase of $0.18 million for this fiscal year. However, the Maungtaw border post reports that due to concerns over transportation security, border trade has been prohibited since September.

Rohu are sent to the Sittway border gate by cold-storage trucks or ships after being processed in Yangon. They are subsequently transferred to Bangladesh using motorboats. Since 2016, Myanmar has been exporting rohu to Bangladesh through the Sittway and Maungtaw border crossings.

Myanmar’s economy is focused on agriculture and livestock. Commercial fish farming enterprises can be found in the townships in the regions of Yangon, Bago, and Ayeyawady. As the crop has increased its market share in international markets, farmers have expanded the rohu farming sector.

Rakhine State receives roughly 1,000 tonnes of rohu from Yangon City through the border crossings at Sittwe in Myanmar and Maungtaw in Bangladesh.

From the other two cities, Rohu is also brought to the border by road and by water. Myanmar’s exports have regularly outperformed imports in cross-border trade with Bangladesh, with exports reaching $19.066 million and imports totaling $0.14 million between 1 April and 2 December in the 2022–2023 FY.

From $6.318 million ($7,093.413 tonnes) in the 2019–2020 fiscal year to $4.76 million ($5,010.7 tonnes) in the 2020–21 fiscal year to $13.987 million ($11,362.97 tonnes) in the 2021–2022 six-month mini-budget period, the value of fisheries products exported to Bangladesh through two border crossings ranged (October-March).

A Chittagong fish vendor claims that when Burmese fish is hard to come by in the city’s markets, local fish prices rise. Rohu fish has been exported from Myanmar to Bangladesh via the border trade crossings at Sittway and Maungtaw since 2016. Between 1 April and 10 September 2022, about 8,000 tons of Rohu fish worth over 10.021 million USD were shipped to Bangladesh. Rohu accounts for 70% of the nation’s total exports, along with other items including dried fish, prawns, and occasionally hilsa fish, while its imports are made up of electrical products, soft drinks, children’s toys, and medications. Fish are currently being transported from Yangon and the Ayeyarwaddy region to Sittway and Maungtaw border trade stations for shipment to Bangladesh. It has been discovered that Sittway currently lacks sufficient fish farming to sustain an export sector.

According to the Ministry of Commerce, during the first five months (April through August) of the current fiscal year 2022–2023, MYANMAR shipped 5,160 tonnes of rohu valued US$6.449 million to Bangladesh through two cross-border posts.

Salt trade

Salt produced in Arakan State will be exported to Bangladesh this year for the first time in more than a decade, according to those engaging in salt production.

Bangladesh and the military regime reached an agreement in March 2022 that will see salt from Arakan State shipped to the South Asian country.

The chairman of the Arakan State Salt Farmers Association, U Than Win, said that it is not yet known how many tonnes of salt will be exported, as it depends on the quality of the salt.

If the quality of the salt is good, Bangladesh has offered to buy it from Arakan State. We have to produce good quality salt,” he said.

From 1993 to 2004, nearly 150,000 tonnes of salt were exported from Arakan State to Bangladesh, but the purchases were stopped for a variety of reasons for several years thereafter.

In 2012, Bangladesh bought 30,000 tonnes of salt from Arakan State, but that was the last purchase made until this most recent deal because the salt was deemed of insufficient quality.

U Maung Tun Win, a local salt farmer from Shwenyoma Village, Kyaukphyu Township, said that if the salt produced in Arakan State is exported to Bangladesh once again, there will be more people working in the salt industry and the acreage of salt farms will increase.

If the government allows the direct export of salt to the Bangladesh market, the people of Arakan will also benefit,” he said.

Bangladesh consumes nearly 1 million tonnes of salt annually, but the country can only produce about 300,000 tonnes of salt per year, according to the Arakan State Salt Farmers Association.

Salt farmers in Arakan State say they need loans, technologies and markets to rejuvenate the local salt industry.

Areca Nut trade

Myanmar shipped 1,096.500 tonnes of areca nuts to Bangladesh in the first half of the current financial year 2022-2023, according to the Ministry of Commerce of Myanmar. The country delivered 890.345 tonnes of areca nuts during the six months 2021-2022 mini-budget period. The export volume was up by 206.155 tonnes this FY.

Myanmar’s agriculture and livestock businesses are the mainstay of its rural community. The rural people execute areca nut farming as a family business. The areca nuts are sent to Bangladesh through the Maungtaw border.

Fresh supply of newly harvested areca nuts brought down the prices, according to the Mawlamyine areca nut market.Myanmar’s areca nut fruit market has become widespread. The commodity depot of areca nut fruits emerged in the producing states and regions (Rakhine, Mon and Kayin states and Taninthayi and Ayeyawady regions). As a result of this, the dried areca nut production is likely to drop in future and the prices are likely to go up on low inventory and possible foreign demand, traders forecast.

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