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Jade sales drop amid ongoing conflict

A potential buyer examines a piece of jade at Naypyidaw's gem emporium in July 2015. (Photo: DVB).

Proceeds from Burma’s annual sale of jade, gems and pearls totalled US$592.12 million, down nearly 10 percent from 2015, government data showed.

More than 2,000 gem merchants, many from neighboring China, attended the sale in the capital Naypyidaw from June 24 to July 6, the official daily Myanmar Alin reported.

Nearly all of the proceeds came from the sale of 3,647 lots of jade, which accounted for $584 million of the total.

Jade in Burma is mainly found in the Hpakant area of war-torn northern Kachin State, where activity is dominated by mostly Chinese-led ventures.

Much of the jade is being smuggled into China each year, local residents say. Jade is a status symbol in China widely believed to bring fortune, wealth and longevity.

According to official data, China — the world’s biggest jade market — imported only about $540 million of Burmese jade in the first nine months of 2015. Global Witness, a non-governmental organization, estimated the value of Burma’s jade production at $31 billion in 2014.

Local villagers complain they are being forced off their land because of increased mining activity.

Scavengers who in the thousands scour mountains of loose earth and rubble for nuggets of jade are sometimes buried alive, including 114 killed in a landslide in November.

On the other hand, jade production has been dropping due to long-running sporadic fighting between government forces and the Kachin Independence Army, a major ethnic armed group.

Total jade production in the 2014-15 fiscal year was over 16.684 million kg, compared with 43.185 million kg in 2011-12 and 46.810 million kg in 2010-11, according to data from the state-run Central Statistical Organisation.

Total jade production from April to November in fiscal 2015-16 was 18.047 million kg.

Burma’s gem emporium has been held annually since 1964 and provides a rare glimpse into its largely opaque jade trade.