Bangkok--The first Myanmar International Gems Jewellery Expo took place from May 9 to 12, marking a small opening into the jewelry trade in a nation that has been sanctioned by the United States for years.
Held at the Myanmar Convention Center, the expo attracted 40 exhibitors from Myanmar (formerly Burma) and eight countries abroad--the United States, Austria, Spain, Germany, Italy, Canada, Thailand and India. Delegates from more than 50 media companies also attended.
AsiaConnect organized the expo. A second show already is scheduled for next year.
Certain gems from Myanmar have been sanctioned for a number of years due to ongoing political turmoil though there have been some indications in the past two years that the situation in the nation is improving and that the U.S. is considering lifting the sanctions.
According to Human Rights Watch, Myanmar's gem industry is ruled by the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), which has a tarnished human rights record due to the recruitment of child soldiers and the persecution of ethnic minorities, among other abuses.
The SPDC has a direct stake in Myanmar's gem mines, as well as a direct ownership interest in many of the country's top gemstone businesses.
Because of its deplorable human rights activities, U.S. and European jewelers, including Tiffany Co., Bulgari and Cartier, have boycotted gems from Myanmar.
In 2008, Congress approved and President George W. Bush signed the Tom Lantos Block Burmese JADE (Junta's Anti-Democratic Efforts) Act, outlawing the import of Myanmar-originated rubies and jade but not all precious stones produced in the country.
In 2012, however, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Myanmar, followed by President Obama in March 2013. Last month, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he won't seek extensions of economic sanctions against Myanmar in light of a shift toward democracy in the country.
The second Myanmar International Gems and Jewellery Expo 2014 is slated for Feb. 7 to 9 at the Old Gems Museum in Yangon.