Report: Illegal Timber Trade From Burma to China Growing

By Louise Watt 18 September 2015

BEIJING — The illicit timber trade between Burma and China is rebounding to near its peak of a decade ago as loggers push deeper into Burma to strip its forests, according to a report released Thursday by an environmental group.

The London-based Environmental Investigation Agency says it is calling on both governments to stop the trade worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year that is reducing Burma’s forests and supplies China’s wood-processing industry, which makes furniture for domestic and international markets.

The nongovernmental organization said Chinese businesses acquire the rights to illegal log mountains, paying off corrupt officials in gold bars and bribing armed groups and the military to pass through checkpoints. The logging is done by poor Chinese villagers. Dozens of them were convicted earlier this year following raids by Burmese authorities, but the “shadowy kingpins” who organize the trade and reap the profits remain untouched, the report said.

Julian Newman, campaign director for EIA, said at the report’s launch in Beijing that the volume of illegal timber crossing from Burma into China was approaching 900,000 cubic meters (31.8 million cubic feet) a year—not far off the 2005 peak of about 1 million cubic meters which fell after Chinese authorities temporarily clamped down.

Newman said the rosewood and teak was coming from deeper in Burma as Chinese investment in building dams and infrastructure in the country leads to more roads and access to forests that were previously untouched.

EIA called on China to prohibit all imports of illegally logged timber, and it wants Burma to reduce logging nationwide until it assesses its forest conditions.

The illegal cross-border trade was highlighted earlier this year when a court in northern Burma convicted and sentenced 155 Chinese nationals, most to life in prison, for illegal logging. The case strained relations with Beijing, and the Chinese were later released as part of a presidential pardon of thousands of prisoners.

The flow of timber was unhindered for decades between Burma’s Kachin State and China’s Yunnan province. But in April 2014, Myanmar brought out a law banning the export of logs. It had already mandated that all wood could leave the country only from Rangoon port.

Rising prosperity and growth as a global manufacturer have driven Chinese demand for wood.