Law­suit tar­gets Myan­mar teak

Swe­den has pros­e­cuted an im­porter and trader of Myan­mar tim­ber, say­ing a higher bar is needed to en­sure the tim­ber was not har­vested il­le­gally in a case en­vi­ron­men­tal groups her­alded as set­ting a new prece­dent.

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - NICK BAKER n.baker@mm­times.com – Ad­di­tional re­port­ing by Su Phyo Win

SWE­DEN has pros­e­cuted an im­porter and trader of Myan­mar teak un­der an Euro­pean Union rule that bans plac­ing il­le­gal or high-risk wood on the EU mar­ket, ac­cord­ing to in­for­ma­tion from the NGO En­vi­ron­men­tal In­ves­ti­ga­tion Agency (EIA).

An EIA state­ment yes­ter­day an­nounced that a Swedish For­est Agency in­ves­ti­ga­tion found Alm­tra Nordic could not demon­strate who had har­vested their tim­ber or where it was cut prior to pur­chase from its sup­plier, the state-op­er­ated Myanma Tim­ber En­ter­prise (MTE). Ac­cord­ing to a Swedish court, the MTE’s doc­u­ments did not ad­e­quately prove the le­gal­ity of the tim­ber all the way through the sup­ply chain.

Alm­tra Nordic was re­port­edly fined 17,000 Swedish kro­nor (US$1700) and has re­ceived an in­junc­tion pre­vent­ing it from plac­ing Myan­mar teak on the EU mar­ket un­less it can iden­tify and mit­i­gate the high risks of il­le­gal­ity in­volved.

Ac­cord­ing to the EU Tim­ber Reg­u­la­tion [EUTR], which came into force in 2013, com­pa­nies must demon­strate due dili­gence to en­sure they are not im­port­ing il­le­gally logged wood.

The le­gal case, which in­volved a year of in­junc­tions and ap­peals, comes weeks af­ter the EIA for­mally re­ported nine teak traders for sim­i­lar of­fences across five Euro­pean coun­tries.

“The Swedish courts have agreed that doc­u­men­ta­tion cur­rently pro­vided by MTE does not sat­isfy the re­quire­ments of the EU Tim­ber Reg­u­la­tion, set­ting a prece­dent which all EU mem­ber states should fol­low,” said EIA for­est cam­paigner Peter Cooper.

“The rul­ing means no Burmese teak can be legally placed on the EU mar­ket un­til the Myanma Tim­ber En­ter­prise ad­dresses il­le­gal­ity and trans­parency within the sup­ply chain,” Mr Cooper said.

“This is a key test of Europe’s re­solve to en­force a piece of en­vi­ron­men­tal leg­is­la­tion cen­tral to EU forests and cli­mate pol­icy.”

Ac­cord­ing to EIA’s state­ment, traders who pur­chase Myan­mar tim­ber prod­ucts of­ten use a “green folder” to demon­strate that their pur­chases com­ply with Myan­mar’s for­est laws. The folder, which is put to­gether by the Myan­mar For­est Prod­ucts Mer­chants Fed­er­a­tion, typ­i­cally in­cludes per­mits is­sued by the Myanma Tim­ber En­ter­prise, the only of­fi­cial pur­veyor of Myan­mar wood. How­ever, ac­cord­ing to the Swedish courts, the green folder is not enough to com­ply with due dili­gence un­der the EUTR, par­tic­u­larly in that it does not com­pletely trace the sup­ply chain from for­est to point of ex­port.

The rul­ing was her­alded as a le­gal prece­dent that will set the EU im­port bar at a higher stan­dard.

Deputy gen­eral man­ager of the Myanma Tim­ber En­ter­prise U Aye Cho Thaung said he was not yet fa­mil­iar with the Alm­tra Nordic case. Bar­ber Cho, sec­re­tary of the Myan­mar For­est Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion Com­mit­tee, told EIA that work is al­ready be­ing done to en­sure the le­gal­ity of Myan­mar tim­ber ex­ports.

“The MTE is work­ing on im­prov­ing data sys­tems so that in­for­ma­tion on trace­abil­ity be­comes more read­ily ac­ces­si­ble. Af­ter Myan­mar’s cur­rent log­ging mora­to­rium, all tim­ber ex­trac­tion will be the sole re­spon­si­bil­ity of MTE, so there will no longer be any ques­tion over who has the right to har­vest,” he said.

Myan­mar is cur­rently un­der a na­tional log­ging ban that will run un­til the end of March 2017. Dur­ing the ban, the coun­try is meant to only rely on stock­piled tim­ber.

The ban was put in place ear­lier this year to staunch one of the world’s worst de­for­esta­tion rates.

Ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­ga­ni­za­tion, Myan­mar lost 3.2 mil­lion hectares of forests and about 10.8 per­cent of its for­est cover be­tween 2010 and 2015. Only Brazil and In­done­sia fared worse.

Photo: AFP

A young girl car­ries a bas­ket at a log­ging area on the out­skirts of Yan­gon.

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