Importing foreign wine will now beallowed by all domestic importers, ending a decades-old ban in the country and opening up a potentially profitable investor opportunity in a country ranked one of the top tourism spots for 2015. Previously most foreign wine consumed in Myanmar had made its way into the country on the illicit black market, but on 18 March the Ministry of Commerce issued  Notification 18/2015 lifting the long time ban with respect to the importation of foreign wines and pronouncing that other banned goods likewise soon receive the thumbs up for importing.  The Ministry of Commerce has publicly noted that foreign wine is but the first step and other forms of foreign alcohol soon also be allowed, although no timetable has been established regarding this. 

The importation of a range of products – including alcohol – have been official banned in Myanmar, frustrating the tourism and hospitality sector. The prima facie prohibition against foreigners conducting importing or distribution activities in Myanmar remains, but the lifting of the prohibition is an opportunity for F&B to start introducing their products to the Myanmar market.

Per Section 4 of the Export and Import Law of 2012 (the “Export and Import Law”) the Ministry of Commerce– may regulate export and import matters and restrict, prohibit and ban goods from export and import.

Section 13 of the Export and Import Law states that the Ministry may, with the approval of the Government, issue necessary implementing rules, regulations, notifications, orders, directives and procedures to carry out the dictates of the law.  Utilizing this authority on 4 January 2013, the Ministry of Commerce issued Notification 8/2013 to specify the goods which are not permitted to be imported from abroad including alcohol and beer.

Foreign alcohol could of course always be found throughout Myanmar however most of it had been imported illegally either through a duty-free shops, hotels or illegal border trade.  In practice foreign alcohol was still allowed to be legally imported by hotels and duty free shops which had been granted a special permit to do so but could not then be sold on for sale outside such establishment.  Permitting hotels and duty free shops a monopoly on the legal import of foreign alcohol was the result of a practice stemming from mid-1990s under the former military government.  As in many areas the laws and practices of the former Government are slowly being eroded to bring Myanmar into the 21st century.  

Notification 18/2015 issued under the same authority as Notification 8/2013 which banned the importation of foreign alcohol has reversed the prohibition and now allows for the import of foreign wines.  In relevant part the new notification states “the Ministry of Commerce has allowed importing a variety of foreign wines from overseas commencing from the issue of this notification as per the local market demand and significant influx of foreigners owing to the improving situations of the country.”

The recent pronouncement that foreign wine may now be legally imported should be welcome news to many including retailers, distributors, wholesalers, restaurateurs and anyone who likes to have a legal glass after a long day.