FOUR years ago I wrote a story about the Myanmar cattle industry with the heading “Myanmar’s Enigmatic Beef Cattle Industry: Please ring back in 2026.”
I have just spent two weeks in Myanmar (formerly Burma) in mid-January 2020 and must review my predictions for the future of the cattle industry as a lot has happened in the last four years.
In my first article I presented the following summary of the main problems that needed resolution before the live cattle trade with China could commence in earnest:
- Solve all the ethnic disputes across Myanmar to ensure free movement of people and trade goods throughout the country and across national borders;
- Eradicate Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) which is endemic in Myanmar;
- Mechanise Burmese agriculture so that diesel hand tractors take the place of draft cattle;
- Convince the new Burmese government and general population that after their 54 year bitter struggle for democracy, embracing Chinese offers of trade and infrastructure will not automatically lead to a new form of domination by the overwhelming commercial and political muscle of China.
You can put a line through the barriers listed above as they are all now resolved to a point where trade has already commenced in significant volumes.
I was told by a number of sources that during the period of three months prior to our visit in January 2020 that the average daily live exports into China through the Shan state border crossing of Muse were in the order of 1000 slaughter cattle per day.
Presumably, the law prohibiting the export of live cattle has also been revoked.
Ethnic border disputes
If you examine the map below you will see that Myanmar is the only country that borders China and has a large cattle herd (about 15 million head) with surplus stock available for sale.
The majority Buddhist population eat very little beef.
The presence of this high quality protein resource in an adjoining country connected by efficient road and rail links to the bulk of the Chinese population is of enormous strategic importance.
While the Myanmar government and their ethnic rebel groups on their own have not been able to resolve their differences for over 50 years, I am sure that once the Chinese government decided that it was in their national interest to achieve a secure trade route through the disputed territory, I expect that they have played a decisive role in achieving a workable crossing protocol by applying enough carrots and sticks to both sides in order to deliver a cross-border trade agreement which is beneficial for all parties.
Foot and Mouth Disease
The disease risk has been dealt with through a combination of vaccination and quarantine on arrival a short distance inside the Chinese border with vaccinated, disease free stock only travelling onwards into China as far as Kunming where they are slaughtered in newly constructed facilities.
Processed beef can then be distributed throughout China with minimal disease risk.
Mechanisation: The “Chinese Buffalo”
Burmese agriculture is now well and truly mechanised with the introduction of the “Chinese Buffalo” which is the local name for the wide range of imported Chinese mechanical equipment which has dramatically (but not entirely) reduced the demand for draft power.
Myanmar Chinese relations
The final item on the list of problems needing to be solved was, how to convince the Burmese government and people that increased trade with China is in their best interests.
China sees Myanmar as one of its most important strategic neighbours which has already assisted with access for oil and gas pipelines through the middle of the country from Muse to the Bay of Bengal as well as many other initiatives.
While we were travelling through the north east of the country in January, President Xi Jinping made a very high profile visit to Myanmar with discussions focusing largely on mutually beneficial trade and cooperation.
When the Australian herd is at its full strength of about 30 million it produces around 9 million head annually for sale or about 30 percent.
Using an assumption that the Myanmar herd is only half as productive then the annual number of animals for sale might be in the order of 15 percent of 15 million, or 2.25 million head. With only a small amount consumed domestically there appears to be scope for a sustainable live export trade to China of about 2 million head annually.
Myanmar is a magnificent country, well worth a visit for travellers wishing to see something very different to the usual Asian destinations but at the same time quite safe.
The potential for the growth of agriculture is staggering with an enormous fertile valley running down the centre of the country serviced by an extensive network of navigable rivers providing low cost freight services for people and goods.