The staple industry of Burma is agriculture, but many cultivators are also artisans in the by-season. In addition to rice-growing and the felling and extraction of timber, and the fisheries, the chief occupations are rice-husking, silk-weaving and dyeing. The introduction of cheap cottons and silk fabrics has dealt a blow to hand-weaving, while aniline dyes are driving out the native vegetable product; but both industries still linger in the rural tracts. The best silk-weavers are to be found at Amarapura. There large numbers of people follow this occupation as their sole means of livelihood, whereas silk and cotton weaving throughout the province generally is carried on by girls and women while unoccupied by other domestic duties. The Burmese are fond of bright colours, and pink and yellow harmonize well with their dark olive complexion, but even here the influence of western civilization is being felt, and in the towns the tendency now is towards maroon, brown, olive and dark green for the women's skirts. The total number of persons engaged in the production of textile fabrics in Burma according to the census of 1901 was 419,007. The chief dye-product of Burma is cutch, a brown dye obtained from the wood of the sha tree.
Cutch-boiling forms the chief means of livelihood of a large number of the poorer classes in the Prome and Thayetmyo districts of Lower Burma, and a subsidiary means of subsistence elsewhere. Cheroot making and smoking is universal among both sexes. The chief arts of Burma are wood-carving and silver work. The floral wood-carving is remarkable for its freedom and spontaneity. The carving is done in teak wood when it is meant for fixtures, but teak has a coarse grain, and otherwise yamane clogwood, said to be a species of gmelina, is preferred. The tools employed are chisel, gouge and mallet. The design is traced on the wood with charcoal, gouged out in the rough, and finished with sharp fine tools, using the mallet for every stroke. The great bulk of the silver work is in the form of bowls of different sizes, in shape something like the lower half of a barrel, only more convex, of betel boxes, cups and small boxes for lime. Both in the wood-carving and silver work the Burmese character displays itself, giving boldness, breadth and freedom of design, but a general want of careful finish.
Unfortunately the national art is losing its distinctive type through contact with western civilization.
The chief articles of export from Burma are rice and timber. In 1805 the quantity of rice exported in the foreign and coastal trade amounted to 1,419,173 tons valued at Rs.9,77,66,132, and in 1905 the figures were 2,187,764 tons, value Rs.15,67,28,288. England takes by far the greatest share of Burma's rice, though large quantities are also consumed in Germany, while France, Italy, Belgium and Holland also consume a considerable amount. The regular course of trade is apt to be deflected by famines in India or Japan. In 1900 over one million tons of rice were shipped to India during the famine there. The rice-mills, almost all situated at the various seaports, secure the harvest from the cultivator through middlemen. The value of teak exported in 1895 was Rs.1,34,64,303, and in 1905, Rs.1,31,03,401. Subordinate products for exports include cutch dye, caoutchouc or india-rubber, cotton, petroleum and jade. By far the largest of the imports are cotton, silk and woollen piece-goods, while subordinate imports include hardware, gunny bags, sugar, tobacco and liquors.
The following table shows the progressive value of the trade of Burma since 1871-1872: -