Business, Finance & Economics

Burma wants your Oldsmobile


Buddhist monks ride atop a local taxi during their pilgrimage in Bago, some 90 km northeast of Rangoon, Burma, Oct. 28, 2007.


Khin Maung

Being in Burma can feel like someone pressed the pause button on life.

It's isolated and, when I was there three years ago, there was only one place you could get money off your ATM card: a luxury hotel in Rangoon, where they sent your request through Singapore and you had to pay $70 for the pleasure.

In many ways, and largely thanks to sanctions, Burma feels stuck in time. Folks who speak English will quote movies from the '80s and ask if you listen to Anthrax.

Economic sanctions, which have been largely ineffective in spurring the government toward reform, have had the side-effect of keeping everyday folks behind the times in terms of material goods.

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A major reason why sanctions haven't been effective is due to key players like China opting out, and I remember thinking that all the cars and boats and buses, for the most part, seemed like they were 30 years old and Chinese.

A lot of the cars — around 10,000, according to state media — are in fact 30. And the BBC reports that 8,000 are even older than that (between 30 and 40).

As a result, the roads can be, well, messy. Vehicles are always breaking down and their emissions aren't exactly up to code, if you catch my meaning.

It is ostensibly for these reasons that the government has started a program by which people can trade in their 40-year-old cars for permits to import newer models made after 1995.

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The news cars will apparently be imported from Thailand, Japan, China, South Korea and Malaysia. Take THAT, sanctions.

Eyewitnesses said hundreds were in line waiting to take part in the program when it started over the weekend.

And, of course, it's hard to believe the Burmese junta would do anything selflessly.

The price of old cars has risen sharply, according to the BBC, as speculators snap them up to profit from import opportunities.