Dealers Cheer Possible Lifting of Burmese Ruby Ban

Dealers at the recent American Gem Trade Association’s GemFair and other Tucson gem shows applauded the possible lifting of sanctions on Burmese rubies and jade.

“It will help definitely,” said Ravi Lunia, owner of Fai Dee in New York City. “It will be good for business. People want Burmese rubies. African rubies don’t have the same image, because people worry they are glass-filled.”

The Tom Lantos JADE act, enacted in 2008, banned the import of rubies and jade from Myanmar, the Southeast Asian nation also known as Burma, due to concerns over the country’s human rights record. However, recent reforms have led the United States to reestablish diplomatic relations with the country, and some now foresee the end of sanctions.

AGTA CEO Doug Hucker predicted the ban will be repealed after the country’s elections in April. “I think that will be a turning point,” he said. “I’m very pleased with what is happening in Burma, and hope it continues.”

“This issue isn’t a Republican/Democratic thing, which is nice,” he added. “Both parties are in the same place on this.”

But he warned that repealing the ban is likely not a priority for anyone in government right now, and so industry members have to take action. “There are much bigger issues on people’s plates,” he said. “We need everyone to get involved.”

As might be expected at a fair where some booths still advertise Burmese gems, dealers in Tucson had mixed feelings about the ban in the first place.

“It’s not like it accomplished anything,” said Joseph Zaroovabeli of M.Z. Impex Corp. in New York City. “Since the ban, the price of Burmese rubies has gone up.”

Michael Aharonoff, owner of Royal Stones in New York City, also called the ban ineffective. “It didn’t hurt the government,” he said, “just the poor people of Burma.”

On the other hand, Eric Braunwart, head of Columbia Gem House in Vancouver, Wash., which markets fair trade gems, credited the ban with the improved progress on human rights.

“I truly believe sanctions helped get Burma to this position,” he said. “If things continue to get better, I’m happy.”