CSOs Ask to Be Heard in Timber Trade Talks With China

By Nyein Nyein 12 January 2016

A network of some 150 civil society organizations (CSOs) have called for their voices to be heard in bilateral timber trade talks between Burma and China supported by Western aid agencies.

The groups expressed concern about a lack of attention being paid to those who would be most affected by the projects, expected to benefit the Myanmar Timber Enterprise, a subsidiary of the Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry that is in control of harvesting rights.

The CSOs sent a letter to the US-based Blue Moon Fund foundation and Britain’s Department for International Development on Tuesday, stating: “We are very concerned about the nature of these non-transparent bilateral dialogues, which have been facilitated by the Chinese-NGO Global Environmental Institute. We, as affected and concerned civil society in [Burma], have not been consulted, even though the discussions have great import for the people living in and around and dependent on forest-based resources in [Burma].”

Although talks have supposedly been taking place in the capital, Naypyidaw, for the past year, no CSO representatives have been invited to participate, members of the coalition say.

Burma’s forests, which cover about 45 percent of the country, have been heavily damaged by relentless commercial logging, as well as by illegal logging and trading. To curb deforestation, raw log exports were banned in Burma in 2014.

“We are concerned that multi-year contracts over natural resources, especially timber and jade in ethnic areas, are sold to foreign firms without transparency,” said Khon Ja, coordinator of the Kachin Peace Network, one of the groups that signed the letter.

“We want to postpone these talks while Burma is in a transition period, and we urge that they only be continued after solutions to these issues have been reached through political dialogue,” she told The Irrawaddy.

Conflicts over Burma’s natural resources, especially timber, natural gas and jade, are hardly uncommon when majority-ethnic areas, largely on the country’s peripheries, are involved.

In their letter, the CSOs cited a draft memorandum of understanding between the two governments, which they said is being hashed out and contains provisions related to a Chinese investment zone in timber processing and investment in “timber parks” in Burma.Information is scarce on how any such deal would work in practice.

“We’ve heard that this will be a long-term project, with the processing to be done in Burma,” Khon Ja said.

“If so, we’re afraid that Burma will become a timber plantation site for China. And we don’t want to lose the land that some 70 percent of the rural population lives on.”