Myanmar Intensifies Crackdown On Imported Alcohol, Causes Shortage

 @SophieXSong on December 13 2013 6:22 AM
Myanmar
Youths dressed as punks drink beer as they wait for a punk music show during the Myanmar New Year Water Festival in Yangon April 12, 2013. Myanmar celebrates the New Year Water Festival of Thingyan during the month of Tagu, which usually falls around mid-April. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

Myanmar is clamping down on illegal alcohol imports, sparking unrest among retailers including the nation’s largest supermarket chain, City Mart.

The intensifying crackdown has caused such fear for being raided that many retailers have stopped carrying foreign alcoholic beverages altogether, leading to a shortfall of liquor supplies and complaints from consumers and restaurants, the Irrawaddy reported on Wednesday.

A mobile task force from the Ministry of Commerce last week raided a warehouse of Premium Distribution, a company owned by City Mart Holdings, to inspect the legal import documents of thousands of bottles of foreign alcoholic beverages in stock.

More such checkups have been ordered by the Ministry’s Illegal Trade Prevention and Supervision Control Committee, according to Myint Oo, a task force member. The legal import status of foreign tobacco and preserved frozen foods will also be investigated.

“We’ve been checking such places based on tips of informants,” Myint Oo said.

City Mart responded that government restrictions on imported alcohol has forced the company to supply from limited sources, and some of alcohol may have been imported illegally.

“We don’t know how our suppliers imported such products, but as long as suppliers are legally registered companies we will buy from them. So we don’t know their background channels,” a City Mart spokesperson told the Irrawaddy.

The retail sector is calling for a revision of the policy on alcohol imports that could help local business operations. The ban on alcohol, tobacco and other luxury goods has been in place since the mid-1990s under the junta government, and allows only certain hotels and duty-free shops to carry such imports. Retailers have routinely relied on supplies bought through the hotel industry or black market channels, without facing penalties.

But since September, the Ministry of Commerce has begun raiding some of Myanmar’s biggest alcohol distributors. In October, 30,000 bottles of wine and 2,400 cans of beer were confiscated in a warehouse in Yangon, belonging to Quarto Products, a large beverage distributor. The managing director of the company could face three years of imprisonment in a court case that the Ministry has opened against Quarto, according to the Irrawaddy

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