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NEWS - Tiny Indo-Myanmar Free Trade
- Subject: NEWS - Tiny Indo-Myanmar Free Trade
- From: Rangoonp@xxxxxxx
- Date: Wed, 26 May 1999 21:43:00
Subject: NEWS - Tiny Indo-Myanmar Free Trade Zone Thrives
Tiny Indo-Myanmar Free Trade Zone Thrives
NAMPHALONG, Myanmar, May 26 (Reuters) - Every day,
buses and cars from the northeastern Indian city of
labour up the hilly, final stretch of India's National
39 to the Myanmar border.
They drive 110 km (68 miles) to take hundreds of traders
and shoppers to Namphalong market on the Myanmar side
of the free trade zone straddling the two countries.
There, they can buy everything from colourful plastic
and cans of Coca-Cola made in Thailand to car batteries
and pocket radios.
"The free trade zone is very important for Manipur
is the state's largest trading centre," says P.C.
commissioner of industries and commerce for the state of
"The prices there are very reasonable. Woollen blankets,
example, are much cheaper than in Delhi."
Between December 1995 and September 1997, about 991
million rupees ($23.2 million) worth of goods were traded
here, with the balance tilting slightly in favour of
"There is only one gate now. We are planning to open a
second gate at the border in three or four months to
trade," Lawmkunga said.
CLOSER TO BANGKOK THAN NEW DELHI
The remote state of Manipur is one of the northeastern
"seven sister" states linked to the rest of India by a
strip of land, sandwiched between Bangladesh and Bhutan.
Manipur, with a population of about two million, is
Bangkok than it is to New Delhi, some 1,400 km (870
Most of the population engages in agriculture and the
can feed itself. But economic development in landlocked
Manipur has lagged behind that of most other states
because of inadequate communications, difficult terrain
Shops in the state capital of Imphal stock all the usual
household necessities, such as soap and toothpaste, but
takes time for new products to come to town.
"We basically have everything, but sometimes when
of things which are not in great demand run out, it takes
while for the next batch to come," says one Imphal
The railroad does not come to Manipur, and goods such as
water storage tanks and Indian commodities arrive
on top of buses.
The vehicles are escorted by army convoys as the highway
from the neighbouring state of Assam winds its way
hills infested with separatist militants.
ASIAN GOODS GALORE
"I come to Namphalong three times a month to stock up on
food," says Bila Sini Devi, a trader from southern
"There is more variety here than in Imphal and it's much
India and Myanmar signed an agreement to form a free
zone in 1994. One hundred Indian rupees is equivalent to
700 kyat at the border market, which is open from dawn to
Most of India's exports to Myanmar are medicines, spices
and textiles, while its imports are mainly food,
goods and garments.
Dozens of tiny, crammed stalls managed by Myanmar
nationals and Nepali merchants spread out under a tin
near the border checkpost. Numerous cafes have also
sprung up in one corner of the market to cater to hungry
vendors and buyers.
"The most popular item is this pocket radio," says one
Myanmar merchant, holding up a cigarette box-sized radio
marked with the brand name "Sunny."
"They are 230 rupees ($5.42) each, come in boxes of 50
on a good day, I sell a couple of boxes to Indian
says. "Most of the business is done in bulk."
Around him there are clean, new boxes of television sets,
stereos and tape recorders.
"Most of the things come from China, but some come from
Singapore and Malaysia," he says.
The goods, which move from Namphalong to Moreh, the
town on the Indian side of the border, are then sold at a
clutch of shops in Imphal known as the Moreh bazaar.
Locals say goods at the Imphal market are about 10
cheaper than those sold in New Delhi or other parts of
TRADE CENTRE SHIFTING
Long before the Namphalong market opened, Moreh was the
centre of border trade. Everything, from silk thread for
Manipur's many handlooms to high-quality heroin, was
smuggled through the town.
People from all over India flocked to the town to make
fortunes, giving birth to numerous hotels and
Many Tamil traders from southern India, wearing
blue-checked sarongs and thongs, still saunter up and
the dusty, main street. But they say business is not what
used to be.
Shops are closing down and Moreh is changing from an
unofficial trading centre into a bus depot for shoppers.
"Now there are only about 3,500 Tamils in Moreh. There
used to be double the number before the border opened,"
says Kambo Madrasi, a Tamil cigarette shop owner.
"Business is getting worse day by day. Maybe it's time to
($1 - 42.4 rupees)