Industry leaders, on a trade mission to Myanmar, say the country’s jade sector remains problematic
The 8-year-old sanctions on Burmese ruby and jade coming into the United States were officially lifted by an executive order dated Oct. 7.
President Obama signaled his intention to lift the ban last month.
The timing was auspicious—leaders of the American Gem Trade Association (AGTA) and Jewelers of America were on a trade mission to Myanmar (formerly Burma) when the sanctions were lifted.
“We have had an amazing reaction from the top down,” says Jeffrey Bilgore, AGTA president. “This is a country coming out of the darkness of 50 years of military rule and eager to participate in the new order. We have met everyone from the smallest artisanal miner to the members of parliament. And they are really excited to be part of the gem community. It’s a big relief and a long time coming.”
Jewelers and their customers will benefit from greater access to choice gems, he says.
“Customers are still asking for Burma rubies,” Bilgore says. “After eight years of no longer being able to import, it will have an impact.”
The leaders acknowledged that the Burmese jade sector remains problematic, and they were mostly focused on reestablishing ties with the gem business. (In addition to rubies, Myanmar produces sapphires, topaz, and other gems.)
“The gem sector has always operated in a very different way than the jade sector,” Bilgore says. “There is still an awful lot of work to do there. The gemstone sector can be a model to the jade sector in helping to modify their practices.”
Another mission participant, AGTA CEO Doug Hucker, says that local miners were eager to do business responsibly.
“We have made recommendations to them,” he says. “Across the board they have been receptive. Everyone wants to do business in the right way. It’s ingrained in their philosophy, their religion.”
Jewelers of America president and CEO David Bonaparte, also on the mission, says that his members were anxious to “get the ball rolling” and “reintroduce gems from Burma in their stores.”
Bilgore says that the local reaction to the sanctions’ lifting was ecstatic.
“This is the proudest gem valley in the world,” he says. “It goes back 1,000 years. America is the largest gem-consuming market in the world and [the country hasn’t] been able to sell us rubies for eight years. They are happy to come out from the darkness, come out from the cloud.”
Also on the trade mission: James Shigley from the Gemological Institute of America; Timothy Haake of Haake Fetzer, senior counsel to JA; and a representative of the Inle Advisory Group, a Myanmar-centric business consulting firm.
The ban on the importation of rubies and jade into the United States came into effect with the passage of the JADE Act in 2008. When that law expired in 2013, President Obama issued an executive order that year keeping the ruby and jade ban in place.