The Myanmar Watermelon and Muskmelon Producers and Exporters Association has asked the Commerce Ministry to re-open the Kyin San Kyawt gate amid their concern over traffic congestion at the gate on account of tightened security by China.
Trucks loaded with watermelon, muskmelons, and plums from Myanmar have faced delays after entering the Kyin San Kyawt gate to go to Wanding, China, on account of Chinese border authorities using advanced security measures involving fingerprinting and facial recognition.
On 26 December, 494 trucks were lined up on the Kyint San Kyawt road near Muse. On 27 December, Myanmar shut down the Kyin San Kyawt checkpoint as part of security measures after an armed group attacked the People’s Militia Forces (PMF).
As a result, the trucks had to move to Kyukok-Pansai and were allowed to enter Wanding only on 29 December.
“The Kyukok-Pansai gate is not legal, but it has been opened temporarily. Losses of traders and suppliers are mounting. A truck carrying watermelons can earn 220 Yuan from two rounds. But, if only 3 or 4 tons of fruit of the total 17 tons remain in good condition on account of delays, we cannot even cover truck fees, leave alone make a profit,” said U Naing Win, the chair of the Myanmar Watermelon and Muskmelon Producers and Exporters Association.
Previously, traders were allowed to pass through the Kyukok-Pansai gate to Wanding with an entry stamp on the border pass. But with China upgrading security measures, the entry of fruit trucks has been hindered, resulting in long queues. Over 700 trucks have been spending hours queueing up to pass the gate since 31 December, 2018.
The changes in security protocols at the Sino-Myanmar border coupled with traffic congestion have caused losses to traders and suppliers as fruits have a short shelf life, and any delay can impact their quality. Therefore, exporters have asked the government to re-open the Kyin San Kyawt gate at the soonest.
“We have submitted a request to the Ministry of Commerce. The Myanmar Watermelon and Muskmelon Producers and Exporters Association has sought discussions with the Commerce Ministry for legal or temporary access to the Kyin San Kyawt gate. If it can be temporarily opened, watermelon growers will be saved. If the gate keeps closing down, the whole supply chain will be at risk,” said U Naing Win.
“Before the closure of Kyin San Kyawt gate, Chinese security measures were causing delays in border crossing, thereby the entry of fruit trucks to China dropping by half compared to normal days. The Ministry of Commerce was negotiating with China on the matter. They requested us to understand their security protocols,” said U Yan Naing Tun, the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Commerce.
The Ministry of Commerce then asked China to increase the gate opening time to tackle the delay faced by fruit trucks, and China agreed. But, during that period, Myanmar had to shut the Kyin San Kyawt gate for security reasons. Following the closure of the gate on 27 December, the Trade Department opened negotiations with the border authorities.
“It is the fruit season so trucks are flowing in and out of the Sino-Myanmar border. But, hundreds of trucks are stranded on the road. We are negotiating with the Chinese embassy in Myanmar. We will apprise the fruit association of what happened, what we are doing, and what we will do. We are conducting discussions with the concerned Myanmar ministries and authorities,” said U Yan Naing Tun, the permanent secretary.
Earlier, China allowed traders to enter Wanding through the Kyukok-Pansai gate from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. After negotiations to tackle the traffic congestion, China is now allowing trucks to enter till 8 p.m. and fruit trucks to come back through the gate not later than 11 p.m.
“The recent delay from the closure of the gate and traffic congestion has caused financial losses to them. As the trucks are stranded on the road, some fruits have been damaged. This is the current situation of the fruit export market in the border areas. Growers will keep planting the fruits, if the market recovers under the management of the related departments. This being so, the acreage of fruit plantations may not decrease. The demand is good, but the traffic and the delays are hurting growers,” said U Soe Lwin, a watermelon grower from Sagaing Region.
As their inflow has slowed, the fruits are selling well in the Chinese market, said traders. But merchants are worried by the traffic congestion as fruits are perishable goods. If the trucks face further delays in entering China, the fruits they are carrying will decay, they said.
On 2 January, depending on their quality, watermelons and muskmelons were priced at 1,000 to 2,800 yuan, while golden honeydew fetched 2,400-3,700 yuan per ton, according to the Khwarnyo fruit depot.
China accounts for 95 per cent of Myanmar’s fruit exports. Watermelon tops the list of fruits exported to China, followed by mango and muskmelon. Myanmar’s mangosteens, rambutan, lychee, watermelon, and muskmelon have been cleared for import by China’s food safety inspection mechanism — the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection, and Quarantine (AQSIQ).
The volume of watermelon exports was estimated at 500,000 tons in the 2014-2015 Fiscal Year, over 560,000 in the 2015-2016 FY, and over 170,000 tons in the mini-budget period from April to September. The volume of muskmelon exports was registered at over 110,000 tons in the 2014-2015 FY, over 100,000 tons in the 2015-2016 FY, and over 40,000 tons in the mini-budget period.
Watermelons and muskmelons are primarily grown in the Mandalay and Sagaing regions and Shan State. Myanmar’s watermelons and muskmelons enjoy a large share of the Chinese market.
By Aye Yamone
(Translated by Ei Myat Mon)