After wowing the crowd with her singing skills, La Min Nge (pictured) was awarded the title of Miss Rainbow Ribbon by a panel of judges in Mandalay on November 23. The beauty pageant, which was open only to members of the transgender community, attracted 42 entries.
Photo and cap: Khin Su Wai
Quarto resumes sales as imports trial begins
“But they applied for FDA approval on the same day the mobile team conﬁs-cated their products,” he said.He said Quarto had never been in legal diﬃculties before and was in the top 100 taxpayers in Myanmar in re-cent ﬁnancial years. He said it was also unclear why the ministry was not consistent in its approach to items that have allegedly been illegally imported through bor-der areas and shipping.“I don’t understand why the mo- bile team has an education period un-der which they do not take action but for overseas trade they don’t oﬀer an education period.” He also questioned where the in-formation came from that prompted the raid on Quarto’s Hlaing township warehouses, from which 30,000 bot-tles of wine and 2400 cans of beer were conﬁscated. “The [informant] might be a competitor of Quarto. But maybe it’s just bad luck; Quarto is not the biggest company [in the sector] and others are still operating.” An oﬃcial from the Ministry of Commerce’s Illegal Trade Prevention and Supervision Control Committee said the background or motivation of informants is not taken into account.“We oﬃcially announced in the paper that anybody can give us infor-mation so we don’t consider whether they are competitors,” he said.The oﬃcial said the ministry had introduced a green channel to speed up the importation process for trad-ers, who had complained that inspect-ing all items took too long.“But just because something has been brought through the green chan-nel by a trader it does not mean it has been legally imported,” he said.
Alcohol import reforms planned
The Myanmar Times
has previ-ously reported, the temporary closure of Quarto – a major distributor of food and beverages to hotels and restau-rants – the seizure of its stock and the arrest of its managing director have sent shockwaves through the sector. The raid appeared to focus mostly on the company’s wine products and following the raid some wine distribu-tors temporarily closed following the Quarto raid, while others left import-ed goods uncollected at Yangon port. It also prompted calls for an overhaul of alcohol import rules, which cur-rently allow only hotels and duty-free shops to import alcohol, including beer, wine and spirits.Following the raid, the Ministry of Commerce announced it was consid-ering liberalising alcohol imports. The oﬃcial said ministry representatives met hoteliers and alcohol distributors last week in an eﬀort to gather feed- back from the sector. Over the coming months the ministry plans to relax rules on wine imports and then pro-ceed to liquor and ﬁnally beer, he said.“We will likely issue import per-mits in December, although we have not made any ﬁrm decisions yet and can’t say exactly when the policy will be implemented.”He said the ministry broadly plans to liberalise trade rules in a bid to combat illegal trade, which costs the government millions of dollars a year in lost revenue.
Trade clarity needed
The general manager of one hotel in Yangon said ministry oﬃcials met rep-resentatives from foreign investment hotels on November 21 to discuss import rules. “They said they were clamping down on illegal trading,” he said. “The reason for the meeting was not [the audit of] Quarto, it was to explain the import rules ... We were told to follow the rules but it’s still not clear what the rules are.”Importing wine on a hotel licence “was a common practice for everyone, so we’re confused about why some have been raided and others not. I think that’s the main concern.“The other thing is that these prod-ucts are not coming in on the back of an elephant. They’re being shipped in, in containers, and going through cus-toms. So how are they getting in?”Jeremy Rathjen, the vice president of consulting ﬁrm Thura Swiss, agreed that the Quarto incident highlighted the lack of clarity over trade rules. “The real issue is that there is so much ambiguity in the trading sector – people don’t know what is legal or not and that is a problem. If that were clariﬁed, if the government were to come out and say this is illegal but very clearly and evenly apply that, I think people would be satisﬁed,” he said.
The Heineken connection
Speculation is widespread in the in-dustry that the company’s problems stem from an anticipated foray into beer distribution, although there is lit-tle concrete evidence to support this. Quarto is believed to have been in ne-gotiations with Asia Paciﬁc Breweries to distribute Heineken until the inter-national ﬁrm’s factory, which is due for completion at the end of 2014, is up and running. The factory is being built by APB Alliance Brewery, a joint venture between APB and Alliance Brewery Company.Quarto refused to comment on the Heineken connection, although the Heineken logo was prominently dis-played on its booth at the MyanFood ’13 exhibition, which was held in Yan-gon in early November. A Singapore-based spokesperson for APB told
The Myanmar Times
last week that it had worked with Quarto in recent months to hold an Oktober-fest event but the cooperation had not yet gone any further. “So far we’ve really only had a rela-tionship in terms of that one event. We haven’t got an arrangement other than that,” the spokesperson said. “We’re very much in the early stages in our re-lationship … We haven’t got anything formal in place and in the early stages of coming into the market.”It would not be APB’s ﬁrst foray into Myanmar. In 1995 it established Myanmar Brewery Limited with army-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (UMEHL).
Food shortage continues
Despite the anticipated reopening of Quarto this week, the shortage of high-end imported food products is likely to continue. A price list sent to customers on November 25 contained only 46 items, including blackcurrant jam from Austria and sushi rice from Japan. A spokesperson for the compa-ny declined to comment except to say it “will be able to distribute again this coming Monday [December 2] latest”.“There has been a shortage of products and we even had to send people abroad to buy some things,” said Thomas Henseler, general man-ager of the Governor’s Residence. “It’s not a problem for wine because we can store it for a long time. But for 300 grams of caviar, 5 kilograms of Wagyu beef, a special spice, French raw milk and cheese, and so on – this is what is hurting us right now.”
CONTINUED FROM NEWS 1AYE THIDAR KYAWTHOMAS KEAN
Mobile team rakes in revenue
A MOBILE customs team seized more than K5 billion of illegal goods at a Bago Region checkpoint on the Yan-gon-Myawaddy route in the ﬁrst half of this ﬁnancial year, oﬃcials said.The haul from the Nyaung Khar Shae checkpoint in Waw township came between April 1 and September 30. Located 16 kilometres (10 miles) from Waw, the checkpoint is the main site for mobile teams to intercept goods destined for Yangon that were illegally imported from Thailand at Myawaddy. “By taking action against illegal trade, the country’s trade volume dropped last month but it rebounded again this month,” said U Thein Tun Oo, deputy director of the Bago Region mobile team. “We will keep taking ac-tion against illegal trade to increase le-gal trade volume … this ﬁnancial year.”Most of the seized items are con-sumer goods, electronic devices, agri-cultural materials and medicines that cannot be legally imported, are sub-standard or lack proper documenta-tion to show import duties have been paid, said U Yin Htwe, head of a mo- bile team at Nyaung Khar Shae. In the ﬁrst quarter of the 2013-14 ﬁnancial year, the team uncovered an average of 84 cases a month, but that fell to 62 cases in the second quarters.
– Nyan Lynn Aung, translation by Zar