Historically, most of Burma's export-import trade was with Asian countries. In 1999, more than 80 percent of the country's export-import trade was with Asian nations, including about half with ASEAN countries. Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, and China are its major trading partners. Singapore is the single most important partner both in terms of imports and exports, providing 31 percent of imports and taking 10 percent of exports. There has been a decline in trade with Europe and the United States since the 1988 military crackdown on the democracy movement. Burma's export-import trade with the United States constitutes about 5 percent of the total foreign trade.
The country's exports are mostly agricultural products. They include pulses and beans, teak, prawns, rubber, rice and other agricultural products. There is a large black market that smuggles live animals, gems, minerals, teak, and rice into the neighboring countries. Burma
|Trade (expressed in billions of US$): Burma|
|SOURCE: International Monetary Fund. International Financial Statistics Yearbook 1999.|
also conducts brisk trade in narcotics. During the 1997-98 fiscal year, imports included raw materials, transport equipment, construction materials, and food items. While priority was given to the importation of materials needed for the Yadana natural gas pipeline, the government took measures to control importation of non-essential goods.
In 1998 the country exported $1.2 billion in goods and services while importing $2.5 billion, reflecting a steady increase of imports over exports during the 1993-98 period. In fact, the trade imbalance has been a chronic problem for the country for well over 2 decades. During the 1965-75 period, rice exports fell, and Burma cut back on imports. During the 1976-80 period, although exports increased, there was a corresponding increase in imports. By the mid-1980s, exports declined, but imports continued to soar. The adverse balance of payment situation continues to plague Burma.
This imbalance has a negative impact on the economy as a whole, forcing Burma to spend its precious foreign exchange reserves. To compensate for this situation, the government has printed currency to buy foreign exchange, thereby accelerating the inflationary tendencies of the economy. This inflation has wiped out many of the gains the country made as a result of economic liberalization in the 1990s. Making matters worse, the government had to buy foreign exchange from foreign sources at commercial rates. Consequently, Burma was unable to service its debt payment, prompting the World Bank to sever ties with the country. The net effect for Burma's people is that their purchasing power and standard of living declined.
The regime, while continuing to increase military spending, was forced to cut back on education, health, and other essential services. Growing international concern about human rights abuses and the regime's inability to tackle narcotics trafficking have led many countries, including the United States, and international financial institutions, to refuse aid or loans to the country. The government's use of forced labor has also led to boycotts of Burmese goods.