Naypyitaw — Myanmar’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation has disputed the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA)’s latest report which claims illegal teak from Myanmar is being shipped to Europe through the black market.
“All the teak we export is legal,” U Kyaw Zaw Oo, the deputy permanent secretary of the ministry, told The Irrawaddy.
On May 28, the EIA report, “The Croatian Connection Exposed – Importing illicit Myanmar teak through Europe’s back door”, says traders are shipping illicit teak into Europe, avoiding import rules to acquire valuable timber for high-paying clients for use in luxury products, like yacht decking.
Illegal teak from Myanmar is not allowed to be traded in the European Union under the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) since 2013.
The report said the documentation the agency obtained showed that 10 shipments of timber totaling 144 tonnes arrived in Rijeka in Croatia between 2017 and 2019. Invoices put the total value at nearly US$1 million (1.4 billion kyats), although the wood was selling at far higher rates to yacht builders.
Alec Dawson, a forestry campaigner at the EIA, told The Irrawaddy that traders throughout Europe are using a Croatian company to land timber and trade it on to them.
U Kyaw Zaw Oo called the EIA’s claims one-sided, adding that timber export procedures are open to investigation.
“I can accept if they say we need to make changes to meet their timber regulations. But they said the exports are illegal, prompting us to respond strongly. What they said is wrong,” said U Kyaw Zaw Oo.
Myanmar is planning to complain through its ambassador to Belgium about the EIA’s claims, he said.
“We oversee timber production and export licenses are issued by the Commerce Ministry. And the Customs Department is responsible for customs duties and clearance. These three agencies will respond through Myanmar’s ambassador to Belgium. We are collecting data to respond,” he said.
A retired senior official at the Forest Department, who asked for anonymity, told The Irrawaddy that Myanmar is exporting teak legally. But western governments claim Myanmar’s teak to be illegal and seize it because they want to put pressures on buyers not to buy teak from Myanmar, he added.
He also claimed that the Dutch government arrested the traders who bought teak from Myanmar when State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi defended the lawsuit at the International Court of Justice in The Hague filed by The Gambia against Myanmar for alleged genocide last year.
“It was politically motivated. [The traders] were arrested in a deliberate attempt to tarnish the image of Myanmar. But the teak was imported legally from Croatia and the Czech Republic,” said the retired official.
A manager of a Yangon-based timber factory said on condition of anonymity that the Forest Department is taking harsh action against the illegal export of teak and only sawn timber can be exported.
For the export of sawn timber, companies have to apply to the Myanma Timber Enterprise to certify that their teak is legal.
The exporters also have to work with third-party organizations which are trusted by importers in Europe, he said. They are professional organizations with expertise in examining whether timber is legal.
“The third party examines the tracking data such as when, where and who cut down the trees, and by which routes timber is carried,” said the retired forestry officer.
Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko
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