Govt to tackle tim­ber ex­port pa­per trail

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - SU PHYO WIN su­phy­owin@mm­

The For­est Department is try­ing to de­ter­mine what doc­u­men­ta­tion is needed to meet in­ter­na­tional stan­dards for le­gal tim­ber ex­ports.

TIM­BER ex­porters are scram­bling to re­spond to the con­vic­tion in a Swedish court of a com­pany ac­cused of im­port­ing Myan­mar teak with­out suf­fi­cient proof that it was legally traded. The im­porter, Al­ma­tra Nordic, had been pros­e­cuted un­der the EU Tim­ber Reg­u­la­tion (EUTR), which bans plac­ing il­le­gal or high risk wood on the EU mar­ket.

The com­pany had re­port­edly re­lied on the “green folder” is­sued by the Myan­mar For­est Prod­ucts Mer­chants Fed­er­a­tion (MFPMF), which the court did not con­sider to be ad­e­quate proof that a ship­ment of teak im­ported into Swe­den had been legally har­vested. Alm­tra Nordic, was fined US$1700 and has in­formed Swe­den’s EUTR reg­u­la­tor that un­der cur­rent cir­cum­stances it will no longer source wood from Myan­mar.

On Novem­ber 25, the MFPMF told a press con­fer­ence that Myan­mar was try­ing to join the Vol­un­tary Part­ner­ship Agree­ment (VPA) for For­est Law En­force­ment, Gov­er­nance and Trade (FLEGT).

The fed­er­a­tion said that un­der Myan­mar law, lo­cal com­pa­nies buy wood from Myanma Tim­ber En­ter­prise (MTE) to make semi-value added prod­ucts and value added prod­ucts for ex­port. Sub­ject to gov­ern­ment rec­om­men­da­tions, MFPMF said it is­sues Chain of Cus­tody (CoC) cer­tifi­cates to the com­pa­nies con­cerned.

The Swedish case has raised the is­sue of rep­u­ta­tional risk for ex­porters and im­porters of Myan­mar tim­ber. MFPMF said it was will­ing to as­sist tim­ber traders in pro­vid­ing ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion on re­quest, if it was ap­proached with queries aris­ing from the EUTR regime.

Fed­er­a­tion chair U Sein Win told jour­nal­ists that the Swedish court had not made it clear what fur­ther in­for­ma­tion was re­quired to es­tab­lish that a con­sign­ment of tim­ber was le­gal.

“The im­porter ap­par­ently did not seek ad­di­tional doc­u­men­ta­tion from MTE or the forestry department,” he said, adding that fur­ther com­pli­ca­tions had arisen be­cause the ship­ment had tran­sited via Sin­ga­pore. “If we can ex­port di­rectly from Myan­mar, I don’t think it will be this com­pli­cated,” he said.

U Myo Min, a direc­tor in the For­est Department of the Min­istry of Nat­u­ral Re­sources and En­vi­ron­men­tal Con­ser­va­tion, told the press con­fer­ence that of­fi­cials were try­ing to de­ter­mine what more would be needed to prove Myan­mar tim­ber was legally traded.

“The Myan­mar Tim­ber Le­gal­ity As­sur­ance Sys­tem [MTLAS] ex­ists, but it has weak­nesses. With the help of the EU, we’re now con­duct­ing a gap anal­y­sis of MTLAS to im­prove the sys­tem,” he said.

Un­der Myan­mar law, tim­ber bought from the MTE is con­sid­ered le­gal. “It’s the obli­ga­tion of the im­porter to com­ply with lo­cal stan­dards and reg­u­la­tions. If an im­porter asks for any ad­di­tional doc­u­ments, we’re ready to help,” he said.

MTE con­firmed that they would be pre­pared to pro­vide any ad­di­tional doc­u­men­ta­tion re­quired by im­porters to sat­isfy reg­u­la­tions in the im­port­ing coun­try gov­ern­ing the le­gal­ity of the tim­ber.

The MFPMF “green folder” is­sued to buy­ers as ev­i­dence of le­gal har­vest­ing in­cludes doc­u­men­ta­tion on spec­i­fi­ca­tions, DO (Des­ti­na­tion Ori­gin) in­voices, a CO (Coun­try of Ori­gin) state­ment from MTE, le­gal cer­tifi­cates pro­vided by the Forestry Department, an ex­port li­cence and a cus­toms dec­la­ra­tion, as well as any fur­ther doc­u­ments pro­vided by the gov­ern­ment de­part­ments con­cerned.

In the event that th­ese were not suf­fi­cient for EUTR pur­poses, more doc­u­ments could be pro­vided at the re­quest of the im­porter, jour­nal­ists were told.

MTE al­ready has clear pro­ce­dures en­sur­ing the trace­abil­ity of the tim­ber sup­ply chain, but more reli­able sys­tems would be de­vel­oped to im­prove the sys­tem.

Hugh Speechly, FLEGT ad­viser for the For­est Department, said the EUTR had pro­vi­sions for trac­ing il­le­gal tim­ber that de­pended on clear ev­i­dence of le­gal­ity pro­duced by the im­porter. “Buy­ers of wood from Myan­mar should be a lit­tle bit more per­sis­tent over doc­u­ments pro­vided by MTE,” he said. “The im­porter did not do enough due dili­gence to mit­i­gate the risk of il­le­gal tim­ber. But this does not mean the tim­ber was il­le­gal,” he said.

The FLEGT In­terim Task Force com­prises 24 mem­bers – eight each from the gov­ern­ment (FD, MTE, Trade Department, cus­toms and po­lice), the pri­vate sec­tor (all of whom are MFPMF mem­bers) and civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tions rep­re­sent­ing tim­ber-pro­duc­ing re­gions.

U Myo Min said that join­ing the FLEGT process would mean greater trans­parency across the length of the sup­ply chain, from log­ging to ex­port. It will in­clude in­de­pen­dent mon­i­tor­ingby civil so­ci­ety groups and the com­mu­nity it­self to guar­an­tee that the wood cut was le­gal.

Ac­cord­ing to For­est Department data, 27 Myan­mar com­pa­nies ex­ported 2472 tonnes of teak, 169 tonnes of hard­wood and 810 tonnes of other types of wood to the EU in the 2015-16 fis­cal year. Ex­ports to the EU for this fis­cal year, as of Novem­ber 20, amounted to 2344 tonnes of teak, 7 tonnes of hard­wood and 9 tonnes of other types of wood from 34 com­pa­nies.

The For­est Department also records ex­ports to Sin­ga­pore, but some of those ship­ments are then shipped to fi­nal des­ti­na­tions, which the department does not track. As a re­sult, some of the Sin­ga­porean ex­port data may in­clude ship­ments that also ul­ti­mately end up in Europe.

Ex­ports to Sin­ga­pore for the 201516 fis­cal year to­talled 5188 tonnes of teak, 718 tonnes of hard­wood and 4440 tonnes of other woods.

Photo: Kaung Htet

For­est thrives in Puta-o in Kachin State.

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