Myanmar’s logging ban a major step towards forest sector reform
The new Government of Myanmar has agreed a temporary national logging ban and a 10-year logging ban in the Pegu Yoma region to give its beleaguered forests breathing space from years of unchecked exploitation.
The national logging ban will run until the end of March 2017, in effect closing the forests for one complete logging season. All exports of round logs from the country have been banned since April 2014.
For the duration of the new national ban, Myanmar will rely on stockpiled timber to supply its domestic wood processing industry and the international market; current stockpiles are sufficient to meet current demand for up to three years.
Access to these stockpiles will be controlled by the Myanmar Timber Enterprise (MTE), a Government entity, and the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) today stressed the importance of having controls in place to ensure full chain-of-custody for all stockpile sales to prevent illegally logged timber being laundered through the system.
Credible controls will assist responsible international traders, especially those based in Europe and other markets which require full transparency before imports can be permitted.
Faith Doherty, Team Leader of EIA’s Forests Campaign, said: “This is a decision that demonstrates clear intent to tackle corruption within the forestry sector by Myanmar’s National League for Democracy-led Government, which only came to power in March.
“Of course, there is no one-policy solution to the problem and much work remains to be done, but this is a hugely encouraging and an optimistic place to start.”
The bans come after years of mismanagement and corruption in Myanmar’s logging and timber trade sector which has contributed to conflict and enriched individuals; over-harvesting has been rife, with annual allowable cut targets routinely flouted and widespread illegal logging of precious timber species such as teak, padauk and Burmese rosewood.
The catastrophic result of this free-for-all exploitation is that Myanmar suffers one of the world’s worst deforestation rates. According to the FAO, between 2010-2015, it lost a colossal 3.2 million hectares of forests, about 10.8 per cent of its forest cover; only Brazil and Indonesia have worse rates.
A further reform expected to be announced by the Government will prohibit private companies from logging in the country. The MTE previously sub-contracted to private sector firms to carry out logging, many of which had close ties to the former military government and which played a key role in over-harvesting.
Senior EIA campaigners travelled to Naypyidaw in Myanmar last week for a first meeting with MPs from the Parliament’s Natural Resources and Environment Ministry as well as with officials from the Forestry Department.
During the visit, EIA provided an update on the illegal cross-border timber trade between Myanmar and China, following the release last September of its ground-breaking report Organised Chaos which revealed widespread timber smuggling of about 900,000m3 of logs a year, worth half a billion dollars.
Soon after the report’s release, the Chinese authorities announced a temporary suspension on wood trade across its land border with Myanmar. This suspension remains in force and EIA research shows a steep decline in the volume of wood imported via official crossings, although some of the main syndicates involved in the business have adapted to use smaller, unofficial crossings.
Doherty added: “Taken together with the fall in the official cross-border timber trade, the new logging ban proposed by the Minister of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation, U Ohn Win, gives grounds for hope that Myanmar is entering a new era of forest management in which conservation and transparency, rather than the old model of extract and export, are at the fore.”
The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) is a UK- and Washington DC-based Non-Governmental Organisation that investigates and campaigns against a wide range of environmental crimes, including illegal wildlife trade, illegal logging, hazardous waste, and trade in climate and ozone-altering chemicals.
- Interviews are available on request; please contact Faith Doherty via firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone +44 20 7354 7960.
- Read the EIA report Organised Chaos: The illicit overland timber trade between Myanmar and China in Burmese, Chinese and English here.
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