Trade: UK Pushes Myanmar to Weaken Alcohol Control
The UK is changing its trade policy with Myanmar and pushing for more market liberalization including for alcohol. Importing alcohol is currently banned in the country.
According to Warren Pain, director of international trade at the British embassy, the UK has already decided to maintain Myanmar’s tariff-free access, whether or not the EU eventually decides to withdraw such trade privileges because of human rights abuses.
One of the areas the UK is pushing in retail trade liberalization is alcohol (spirits) import and sales.
To this end the Department of International Trade is currently working with UK alcohol companies on a campaign for imports and sales of spirits. Earlier, the wine market was opened in Myanmar.
Myanmar currently has a ban on alcohol imports. The Ministry of Commerce announced in June it would come up with draft legislation this year to relax this ban.
The alcohol burden in Myanmar
As WHO reports, Myanmar shows an increasing alcohol consumption trend. The country’s total per capita alcohol consumption is 4.8 liters which is already over the WHO South East Asian regional average. Binge alcohol use is also rather high specifically with men. Myanmar ranks on the high end for years of life lost due to alcohol.
IOGT International earlier reported that alcohol addiction in Myanmar increased around 2.5 fold, from 2013 to 2018.
According to the UK government the move to force Myanmar through trade agreements to import alcohol was expected to curb black market sales of alcohol and boost government revenue. However, it is a well-known fact that more availability of alcohol increases consumption and harm from alcohol. Tackling alcohol harm is costly, and usually costs more than any tax revenues from alcohol leading to economic harm instead of gain.
While unrecorded alcohol use is a serious issue in Myanmar, the evidence-based way to reduce it is to enforce the law properly. Increasing legal alcohol will only increase the economic, social and health burden of the country.
Myanmar does not have a comprehensive written national alcohol control policy either, which means bringing in more foreign alcohol happens in an unregulated market – which benefits the multinational corporations from the UK and other (mainly) Western countries and it hurts communities and people as it will rapidly increase alcohol harm.
Further, alcohol is a major obstacle to achieving Sustainable Development. For a developing nation such as Myanmar, bringing more alcohol is a short-sighted plan for profit which will jeopardize the long-term development of the country.