ANALYSIS: Ban on raw timber, a first step but major issues still unaddressed

Whereas deforestation is one of the most worrying environmental issues in Myanmar, Government and Parliament agreed on a ban on raw timber exports from Myanmar. It came into effect on 1st of April 2014, and Green Lotus proposes its analysis of potential impacts and missing solutions.

Context:

Foreign demand happens to be largely for raw timber – as opposed to value-added processed woods – because it is more difficult for investors to create processing plants in Burma’s underserviced and undeveloped areas. This created a win-win situation for importers; they could buy cheap unfinished hardwoods from Burma and develop processing industries within their own borders.

Deforestation map
Deforestation map

Timber is furthermore a sector with major illegal export: in Kachin State, for instance, the illegal export of logs via the Burma-China land border has been estimated to bring in more than US$200 million per year, much of which is thought to fund rebel army operations.

Expectations of the ban: The export ban on raw timber is supposed to help protect Burma’s declining forests and to create more jobs internally by encouraging the development of wood processing industries in Burma.

What the law does: the new regulation criminalises cross-border trade of raw timber

deforestation
deforestation

 

But still major issues:

–       While the ban could lead to decreased demand of raw timber, it does not actually preserve Burma’s forests, since the law does not deal with the actual logging itself, but rather with how the logs are used once you have them.

–       The ban does not stop foreign companies from processing timber in the country and then exporting it.

–       There is a lack of state and private sector support in establishing a more robust national wood-processing sector.

–       The ban could lead to increased illegal trade: while exports of Burmese raw timber are illegal in Burma, they are legitimate by current regulations in some neighbouring countries.

–       Burma has absolutely no transparency within this sector. The ban could thus reinforce corruption. The Burmese government has, at least, acknowledged the problem by committing to measures like the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative and forthcoming preparations to join the EU’s Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT) initiative, but has not yet proved the ability or the will to enforce violations.

Solutions:

–       Mechanisms to make foreign timber merchants cooperate with government policy makers are necessary to avoid the illegal export of timber.

–       Concertedly develop a national wood processing industry, while avoiding a state-owned monopoly.

–       Monitoring the logging and timber industries will largely be a task for journalists, activists and citizens, because information that incriminates cronies is unlikely to come from the government.

–       There is a need for local communities to have the right to monitor the processing inside the country to prevent foreign industries from exploiting it in an exclusive way, and to ensure an equitable share of benefits for local communities.

–       The Burmese government has, however, committed to lowering its annual allowable cut (AAC) for teak and other hardwoods, which could bring some wins for preservationists. The implementation of such initiatives shall be monitored and extended.