Sanctioned rubies

Last week Mia Ruby held a pop up stall at the American Embassy in Yangon for Embassy staff and families. Naturally there was a lot of interest in ruby jewellery. Which was a timely reminder to write about the recent lifting of the United States Government sanctions on the importation of Burmese rubies.

On the 7th of October 2016 the United States Government removed all remaining sanctions against Myanmar, including a long-standing one against the importation of Burmese rubies and jade. Broad sanctions were initially imposed on Burmese gems in 2003, but specific sanctions on rubies were imposed via the Tom Lantos Block Burmese JADE (Junta’s Anti-Democratic Efforts) Act of 2008. The act included a ban on the importation into the United States of any jade or rubies mined or extracted from Myanmar and any articles of jewellery containing jade or rubies mined or extracted from Myanmar. The intention was to reduce avenues for the ruling military dictatorship to generate income via the export of Myanmar’s high quality and highly sort after rubies and jade. Several human rights reports also highlighted abuse of workers in Myanmar’s mines, including forced labour and poor working conditions.

However, many in the gems industry, both inside and outside of Myanmar, questioned both the rationale and effectiveness of the sanctions. Firstly, rubies were singled out for particular attention, but other gems including sapphires, spinel, garnet, tourmaline, topaz and peridot were all produced in from the same areas and mines and also presented opportunities for income for the military. Secondly, those miners and gem traders who were not linked to the military were punished alongside those who were, limiting opportunities for legitimate trade and encouraging illegal smuggling of the majority of Myanmar’s gems.

So does the lifting of United States sanctions mean that all is now well with Burmese rubies? Recent reports highlight the many challenges that still remain in the gems and jewellery industry in Myanmar. These include continuing illegal smuggling, negative environmental impacts, opaque ownership of mining rights and the need for better regulation in the sector. Mia Ruby therefore remains committed to only buying from trusted suppliers from non-military owned mines.

In welcoming the lifting of sanctions the Government of Myanmar has also recognised that greater value-adding to Myanmar’s gems is needed in order to ensure long term benefit to the country. This includes improving local gem cutting and jewellery manufacturing skills and capacity. Mia Ruby strongly supports this initiative as we are committed to 100% sourcing and production in Myanmar.

One thing that the lifting of the United States sanctions does definitely mean is that there is already a greater demand for Myanmar’s limited ruby supply. This is particularly the case for ‘pigeon’s blood’ rubies from Mogok in central Myanmar which are considered the finest rubies in the world. We are already seeing the effects of this increased demand on ruby prices. Mia Ruby not only produces beautiful ready to wear ruby jewellery but is able to source quality rubies on request.

And don’t forget to come check us out tomorrow (Saturday 26th November 2016) at the new Yangon Collective Winter Market, at Yangon Bakehouse on Inya Road from 8am to 12pm.