Trucks stuck at Chinese borders in Myanmar and Laos due to COVID restrictions — Radio Free Asia

Long lines of trucks have formed at the Chinese borders of Laos and Myanmar, blocked by China’s import restriction in a bid to prevent further coronavirus outbreaks, sources in the two Asian countries told RFA. from the South East.

In Myanmar’s eastern border town of Muse, exports to China of seven types of goods – including rice, chillies and eels – have been suspended since March 15, resulting in a safeguard of more than 70 trucks, border traders at RFA’s Myanmar service said.

“From the beginning, it was very difficult to trade with the Chinese side due to the high cost and frequent changes in the system,” Than Bo Oo, general secretary of the Muse Rice Commodity Exchange, told RFA. “Lately, most of the goods transported are those left over from the last few months. No new shipments have come from the mainland.

“We are still adapting to changes in the system. The cost of shipping from the border now seems higher than the cost of shipping over seas, he said.

Some of the trucks opted to unload their cargo at warehouses along the Muse border rather than wait for China to ease restrictions, he said.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, border traders could export 40,000 to 60,000 bags of rice per day. Before last week’s restrictions, only two or three 12-wheelers carrying 50 tonnes of rice could enter China each day, traders told RFA. Now none crosses.

Fish products are now sent to China by air as the land route is inaccessible, Tai Kyaw said.

Khun Min Thant blamed China’s policy of delegating responsibility for local COVID-19 policies for border support. He said local Chinese authorities in areas near Myanmar were rushing to stop imports to show they were trying to respond to outbreaks. They fear that doing nothing will put their jobs at risk.

“Two mayors have already lost their positions in Ruili due to COVID surges. So if only one or two people are found infected, they order a full lockdown, Khun Min Thant said. “Under these circumstances, our losses will continue.

More than 200 trucks were stopped at the border by Chinese authorities in Kachin State, just north of Muse.

The recurrent opening and closing of the border since trade officially resumed in November last year has been a headache for traders in Myanmar. RFA reported in January that after an abrupt closure, trucks carrying watermelons decided to dump their cargo near the border rather than wait for the fruit to spoil.

China is battling its worst COVID-19 outbreak since massive infections in Wuhan at the start of the pandemic as authorities scramble to contain the highly contagious omicron variant under the controversial ‘dynamic zero COVID’ policy. of the Chinese Communist Party.

An estimated 50 million people were placed under quarantine in various cities and districts across the country last week.

The figures for confinements in Yunnan, the Chinese province on the border of Laos and Myanmar, were not immediately available. But local media said Chinese authorities closed a fruit market in the border town of Ruili after a cluster of transmissions was reported on March 8.

Thaung Naing, deputy secretary in the Ministry of Commerce, told RFA that officials from the ruling military junta were working to get China to lift the various restrictions on goods from Myanmar.

RFA attempted to contact the Chinese Embassy in Yangon but received no response.

According to figures from Myanmar’s Ministry of Commerce, cross-border trade between Myanmar and China totaled $5.47 billion for 2020. But it dropped to just $3.13 billion last year.

The dead end of Laos

Backing up trucks at the Chinese border in Laos remains excruciatingly long for drivers trying to get their goods into China, with disputes over access turning into fights between Lao and Chinese truckers. Even as trade between the countries has resumed, China has imposed a number of precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, including reducing the number of trucks that can cross the border at Boten.

“It’s been a parking lot from Nampheng village to Boten border gate for almost six months now,” a Lao truck driver told RFA’s Lao Service, describing a backup of about 25 miles.

“It takes us more than 14 days to reach our destination in China,” he said.

Another trucker told RFA that authorities need to resolve congestion at the border quickly, as most trucks are carrying produce.

“Some products have an expiry date and they will not be accepted by the Chinese. For example, vegetables, watermelons, bananas and peppers are quickly perishable. Dry products like maize and cassava are acceptable,” he said.

But a Lao customs officer at the Boten gate told RFA that border traffic has improved, due to the reopening of another gate in another province.

The recently opened $6 billion Lao-China Railway is expected to help ease border safeguards by reducing demand for truck freight. But most Lao goods cannot be shipped to China along the high-speed railway linking the Lao capital Vientiane to the Chinese rail network, a Lao import-export expert who requested anonymity told RFA. security reasons.

“Only Chinese products arrive in Laos [via train]. We have to wait for Lao goods to be allowed,” he said.

Lao minerals, cassava and cassava powder are allowed in the train’s holds, he said.

For those whose goods are in the clear, the railway has been great for business, a mineral export worker told RFA.

“We ship our train to China every day,” he said. “We ship cargo in containers, it takes no more than 30 hours to reach the destination. We’ve all switched to rail to ship our products because it’s faster and cheaper.

An official from the Lao Ministry of Industry and Trade explained that Laos was negotiating with China to open rail freight to more types of Lao products.

“Of course, we want to ship more goods, especially agricultural products such as vegetables, bananas, watermelons and rubber by train to China. We don’t know how long the negotiation will last or when it will end,” the official said.

The Vientiane Times reported this week that the Lao government has promised to secure more investment from China in a bid to boost exports.

The key to their strategy will be to make the train available to Lao goods bound for China. The report said that in the first 100 days of the railway, more than 360 cross-border trains transported 280,000 tons of cargo to Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Bangladesh.

Translated by Khin Maung Nyane and Max Avary. Written in English by Eugene Whong.