Myanmar or Burma, is a country in South East Asia that is ruled by a military regime and is probably more famous (in the West at least) for its abuse of human rights track record than most other places in the world. It is also one of the poorest countries in the world, economy wise.
However, Myanmar is also a country steeped in a rich heritage, and equally famous (among jewelers) for its gemstones, predominantly rubies. In fact, Myanmar supplies close to 90% of the world’s rubies, and many fine sapphires, spinels, and jadeite originate from Myanmar as well. The export of gems constitute a major revenue source for this impoverished nation, forming one of its key exports.
The United States has imposed sanctions on Myanmar for a while now, citing its human rights record. This has also banned US gem dealers from importing any gemstones from Myanmar, because the sanctions cover all kinds of Burmese imports. Many other nations also restrict, or forbid trade and ties with Myanmar.
Why then, does Myanmar gemstones find their way all around the world?
The general answer is simple – The gemstone trade is too large to ignore. Because Myanmar supplies some of the best gemstones in the world, there is but a fat chance that the export of gemstones from Myanmar can be prevented in totality. Much like trying to prevent cocaine exports from Colombia.
The specific answer – Thai merchants or middle men buy up a large percentage of Myanmar’s gemstones and then resell them cheaply to any international buyer. It may be that US companies won’t buy them from Myanmar, or even from Thailand (where the majority of Myanmar gemstones are cut). But what if the middlemen trail stretches on a bit longer? Complete with polish and grinding?
If 90% of all rubies worldwide originate from Myanmar, you’d have to practically close down the ruby gemstone trade altogether, which is a bit far fetched, as the demand for rubies is virtually, universal.
The large picture.
It is quite impossible to prevent gemstones from Myanmar from “leaking out.” Unless the world forgoes on rubies altogether, but I don’t think that is likely to happen. As tempting as the red of the ruby is to the eye, you should also bear in mind that the rubies and other gemstones of Myanmar were often mined amidst harsh living conditions of the Myanmar miners.
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