Myanmar Consolidated Media
Education feature story
60th Anniversary of Indonesia~Myanmar

Ditch the viss, govt urges traders

By Ko Ko Gyi
July 18 - 24, 2011

THE basket, viss, tin and tical would largely disappear from Myanmar if the Ministry of Commerce gets its way.

At a meeting on the development of wholesale centres held in Magwe last month, participants agreed in principle to the government’s proposal to adopt the kilogram as the basic unit for commodities trade in all townships.

If implemented, the kilogram would replace traditional, non-metric measurements that are used widely in domestic trade. The government is pushing the change to make foreign trade, which is conducted exclusively in metric measurements, simpler and bring the country into line with its trade partners.

U Kyaw Htoo from the Ministry of Commerce told traders at the June 24 meeting they should discuss the proposal with “all implementing partners” in their townships and then present their views at the next meeting, to be held in Muse, Shan State, in late August or early September.

Despite agreeing to consider the proposal, traders who participated in the meeting told The Myanmar Times afterwards they thought there was little chance of it being implemented in the near future.

One 30-year-old commodities trader from Magwe said there would be “many obstacles” and anticipated strong resistance from farmers.

“It needs to be negotiated with farmers and will definitely take some time to implement. If there are many objections, how can it be introduced quickly? If many are willing to support it though, it could be possible,” he said.

A beans and pulses trader from Magwe with more than 40 years experience in the industry agreed producers were unlikely to accept the shift to the metric system.

“In the past we couldn’t even shift from using the basket to the viss. Even today sesame is purchased [from farmers] in Magwe using the basket. When selling sesame we do so using the viss. Rural people only know the basket and don’t really accept any other measure. If we try to use a measure they are not familiar with they think they are being cheated,” he said.

“If this shift is put into practice right now we would have to use two different measures: [basket] when and [kilogram] when selling. That’s the only way we could do it without disrupting trade.”

However, traders could also prove an obstacle to the changeover. Most use a scale called a kattar to weigh commodities and would be loathe to replace all their equipment, said U Kyaw Myint from business information provider E-Trade Myanmar.

“A large amount of money would have to be poured into manufacturing new weighing machines. For the country as a whole, the cost would be very high,” U Kyaw Myint said.

“Exporters already use the metric system. But those who do business locally just use the prevailing means of measure because it is more convenient.”

Dr Khin Mar Zaw from the Department of Vocational Training, under the Ministry of Industry 2, said the shift to metric system had been completed in more than 100 countries after the imposition of a law. She noted that, in some cases, original measuring units continued to be used for some time – even indefinitely – after the metric system had been introduced.

She said the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation had assisted Cambodia and Laos with metrication under a Mekong Region project but was not sure if Myanmar would be eligible for assistance.

Experts from New Zealand had assisted Myanmar in “adapting” the metrication laws used in these two countries to Myanmar’s “conditions” and a draft measuring technology law had been submitted to the Ministry of Science and Technology’s standardisation department during the State Peace and Development Council government, she said.

Dr Khin Mar Zaw said she could not reveal the exact contents of the draft law.

Myanmar is apparently one of just three countries – along with Liberia and the United States – that have not yet adopted the International System of Units, also known as SI, as their legal units of measure. However, many countries use a combination of metric and non-metric measures.

– Translated by Thit Lwin