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January 13, 2017

Illegal teak from Myanmar invades the European market

There has recently been released a report on the illegal importation of Burmese teak from Myanmar to the EU. Many of the companies have failed to show the source of the teak they were importing.

The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) has led a two-month undercover investigation during which they approached 9 importers working in 5 EU countries. The companies accused of not being able to show the source of the teak called the allegations unfounded.

The companies also argued that they cannot be held accountable for problems in a supply chain controlled by the Myanmar government, as reported recently by Mongabay.

The EU lift a ban on the timber exported from Myanmar in 2012 and the EIA acclaimed the government in August when leaders imposed a moratorium on all logging until March 2017 to allow the country’s forests to recover. Thus, all the wood going from Myanmar to the international markets must be from the existing stockpile.

The EU companies must trail back the timber to where it purchased and harvested, as to the comply with the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR). The EUTR is a set of laws intended to stop the flow of illegal wood into the EU that came into full effect in 2013.

According to the investigation, businesses operating in the Netherlands, Italy, Belgium, Denmark and Germany have failed to meet this obligation, but EIA forests campaigner Peter Cooper said that the problems don’t stop there. Cooper said it wasn’t only 9 companies involved in the issue and he cited a 2013 WWF report that found that 85% of timber leaving Myanmar should be considered illegal.

As reported by Mongabay, the EUTR requires that companies doing business with “high risk” countries that have systemic issues affecting their logging industries make sure that they are buying from legitimate sources. EIA did acknowledge that the importers they met with appeared to be trying to follow the rules, but that they had stopped short of looking further upstream in the supply chain than the chokepoint at which the Myanmar Timber Enterprise (MTE) controls all timber for export.

Yet, importers argued that this type of upstream investigation in Myanmar just isn’t possible, or appropriate.

In August Keflico “admitted to EIA that it is aware the Myanmar Timber Enterprise is providing it with parcels of teak claimed to originate from a single location when in fact these comprise logs from multiple areas with fake origin documents,” according to the EIA release.

We have no control over what the MTE offers for sale. We must assume that they are from the area they say and that they are legally cut,” said an agent of Teak Solutions.

Moreover, Crown Teak, a small Belgian firm that provides teak for “high-end” use in building cruise ships, yachts and resorts make monthly visits to sawmills in Asia to verify that all of the documentation is legally in order and that the logs they buy have been properly marked and graded, according to Mongabay.

Gold Teak Holdings, another company mentioned by EIA that provides teak to the Dutch market, insists that they obtain proper legal certification in the form of a “green book,” which includes export documentation from the Myanmar Forest Products Merchant Federation and certifies that the timber had been legally procured.

But EIA contends that these companies still aren’t doing enough, and the evidence they have gathered calls into question all teak from Myanmar. The agency believes that the teak from Myanmar can’t be legally on the EU market due to the high risk of illegality associated with timber from that country and the lack of transparency by its Government to allow access to information that might demonstrate compliance.



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