Between October 1st and April 2nd, the value of external trade for Myanmar fell by nearly five billion dollars (USD), from $20.36 billion to $15.78 billion, over the same period from the previous year. So, what is the cause of this disastrous drop? Is it the COVID-19 pandemic or the country's political instability? Or both?
Even a state-run newspaper has acknowledged the role this political instability has played in the dampening of trade, citing “political changes”, which was a reference to the February 1st coup that overthrew the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. Aung San Suu Kyi received the Nobel Peace Prize for her decades-long battle for democracy in former Burma, which included fifteen years of house arrest. However, once she gained power, she disappointed many by defending the Burmese military against allegations of genocide against the Rohingya people in Rakhine State.
Unfortunately, there is little hope for the Rohingya now that the military is back in charge, which is neither good for democracy nor, it appears, the Burmese economy. Exports were estimated to reach $7.8 billion in the October-April period, a decrease of more than $1.7 billion from the same period the previous year. Meanwhile, imports were valued at $7.9 billion during this period, which is a $2.85 billion decrease.
Top exports from Myanmar include agricultural products, animal products, minerals, forest products, and finished industrial goods. The main imports are capital goods, raw industrial materials, and consumer goods. The military government is thus attempting to reduce the trade deficit by screening luxury import items and increasing exports. In the 2019-2020 financial year, Myanmar’s trade deficit was an estimated $1.3 billion.
Apart from the protests and strikes that complicate business, the pandemic is still a big problem in Myanmar. As of late July, the country had seen 289,333 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 8,552 deaths, according to WHO. As of June 5th, 2021, a total of 3,368,042 vaccine doses had been administered in the country of nearly 53 million people. To make matters worse, there is also the issue of Myanmar being hampered by other countries' trade disputes.
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