The Irrawaddy

Environmental Agency Praises Danish Divestment from Burmese Teak

An elephant pulls a teak log at a logging camp in Pinlebu township, Sagaing division in northern Myanmar March 6, 2014. Picture taken March 6, 2014. To match story MYANMAR-FORESTS/ REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun (MYANMAR - Tags: SOCIETY BUSINESS ANIMALS)

RANGOON – An international environmental NGO, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), has said it welcomed the Danish authorities’ ruling banning Burmese teak from its markets.

The decision was the second such move from Scandinavia, following a similar Swedish ruling last November.

Danish authorities ruled on Monday, March 13 that injunctions be placed on all seven Danish operators bringing Burmese teak into the country. The decision was based on the EIA’s evidence arguing that Danish timber companies had violated the European Union Timber Regulation (EUTR).

“Denmark’s leadership in EUTR enforcement underpins similar rulings already made in Sweden, and leaves no doubt that anyone placing Burmese teak on the EU market under current conditions is in breach of European law,” said EIA forests campaigner Peter Cooper.

Referring to Denmark’s ruling as a precedent, the EIA said in its statement on March 15 that they also expect authorities in other EU countries, such as Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and the UK, “to rapidly resolve the remaining twelve cases submitted by EIA.”

The twelve companies included Antonini Legnami, Basso Legnami and Bellotti Spa in Italy; Boogaerdt Wood, Gold Teak Holdings and World Wood in the Netherlands; Crown Teak and Vandercasteele Hout Import in Belgium; Teak Solutions in Germany, a case now transferred to Spain; and Moody Decking, Stones Marine Timber and DA Watts and Sons (Wattsons) in the UK, according to EIA.

The EIA stated that the Burmese state-owned Myanmar Timber Enterprise’s lack of transparency, in addition to the high risk of illegality in supplied wood cutting, has made it impossible for “any company to successfully apply due diligence to Burmese teak.”

Regarding the ruling, the Burmese traders said that the Burmese authorities should have been contacted before any decisions were made.

U Barber Cho, a former timber trader now working as a secretary of the Myanmar Forest Certificate Committee (MFCC) told The Irrawaddy that the Danish government “should have asked us, which they did not. We are sad to know that they are blindly blaming and deciding [in a] one-sided [way].”

The EUTR was designed to change the behavior of operators in Europe, it maintains. Faith Doherty, the forest team leader with the EIA, told The Irrawaddy that, “in this case, we hope that with a clear message coming through that the current system in Myanmar does not adhere to the due diligence requirements of this law, changes will be made.”

She said the EIA believes that those who choose to reform have an opportunity to create a working transparent system that benefits Burma.

“We see the political will coming from the top of the Forestry Department, and we also note that the Myanmar Timber Enterprise (MTE) in acknowledging it is unable to provide what is needed must now take the next step and work towards a far more open and transparent system that does not just rely on paperwork,” Doherty explained.

On Thursday, the ministry of natural resources and environment conservation (MONREC), which oversees the MTE, said in its statement that their timber traceability system has been working well, as it “was designed to allow control of extraction, trading of timber, and timber products from the forest of origin to point of export.”

“We acknowledge, however, that the system may be complex for external parties to navigate. We are also aware that some European Union importers are facing challenges in accessing documentation needed to demonstrate the chain of custody of their purchases back to specific forest areas when exercising due diligence as required by the EUTR,” read the statement.