SERIAL OFFENDER: ONE YEAR AFTER EXPOSURE, VIETNAM IS STILL PLUNDERING NEIGHBOURING CAMBODIA’S PROTECTED FORESTS

  • New report details unabated illegal logging, timber laundering and smuggling in Cambodia
  • Hundreds of thousands of cubic metres of timber illegally exported to Vietnam
  • Logging in protected areas of Cambodia
  • EU/Vietnam ‘legal timber’ trade negotiations at risk

LONDON: 

Illegally logged timber

Illegally logged timber

Image by copyright: EIA


The ongoing theft, timber laundering and smuggling operations in Cambodia and Vietnam are exposed in London-based EIA’s new report Serial Offender.

EIA investigators have identified three key areas in Cambodia where illegal logging is occurring on an immense scale. In two of these, companies are using existing permits to launder their timber. Meanwhile, logging in the protected Virachey National Park is occurring with no pretense of legality – and under the direct protection of corrupt Cambodian military personnel and forest rangers.

Vast amounts of timber are being illegally smuggled into Vietnam, with hundreds of trucks avoiding official border gates and Cambodian customs checks. Cambodia has numerous timber export bans in place, including a specific ban on timber trade with Vietnam dating from 2016, and is also responsible for this forest crime

Jago Wadley, EIA Senior Forests Campaigner, said: “Vietnam has a long history of stealing timber from its neighbours. In Cambodia, Vietnamese companies have initiated illegal logging operations in a national park, paying corrupt border police and forest rangers to provide protection from prying eyes.”

Vietnam is currently preparing to sign and ratify a Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with the European Union. This is expected to pave the way for Vietnamese timber exports to comply with EU laws.

But as Vietnam drafts legislation to address its imports of illegal timber, at the same time hundreds of thousands of cubic metres of illegal timber continues to flow unhindered across its borders.

Despite clear evidence of illegal harvest and export, much of this timber is inspected by Vietnamese customs agents and effectively ‘legalised’ into the Vietnamese economy.

Serial Offender raises concerns about the ability and will of relevant agencies in Vietnam to meet its proposed commitments and clean up its market.

“Vietnam’s insatiable hunger for cheap timber continues to undermine forest governance in neighbouring countries. The current Vietnamese system, where blatantly illegal timber is accepted into the economy is fundamentally incompatible with the commitments it has made in its VPA with the EU and must radically change to prevent this agreement from failing,” said Wadley.

“Vietnam needs to show it has the political will to address the illicit flow of timber by enforcing now – not after it has ratified and signed the VPA. There will never be a functioning VPA until this illicit traffic stops.”

Serial Offender presents three case studies, from which vast quantities of illegal timber have been sent to Vietnam – the controversial Lower Sesan 2 dam, the EU-funded Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary and Virachey National Park, where illegal logging operations were exposed in May 2017 in EIA’s Repeat Offender report.

 

EDITORS’ NOTES

* The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) investigates and campaigns against environmental crime and abuses. Our undercover investigations expose transnational wildlife crime, with a focus on elephants and tigers, and forest crimes such as illegal logging and deforestation for cash crops such as palm oil; we work to safeguard global marine ecosystems by tackling plastic pollution, exposing illegal fishing and seeking an end to all whaling; and we address the threat of global warming by campaigning to curtail powerful refrigerant greenhouse gases and exposing related criminal trade.

* Alongside illegal harvest, timber trade to Vietnam is in breach of Cambodian trading laws. Cambodia passed Sub-decree No.131 in November 2006, Article 3 of which prohibits: the export of round logs except from plantations; rough sawn timber except from plantations; square and rectangular timber of thickness and width more than 25cm; luxury timber and timber products; and charcoal from natural forests. The Cambodian Coalition Committee for Forest Crime Prevention, established at the behest of Cambodia’s Prime Minister during a 2016 crackdown on illegal logging, completely closed the border with Vietnam to the timber trade in response to the high levels of illegal timber flowing into the Vietnamese market.

*. The European Union’s Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan embodies Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) as a core tool in addressing illegal logging and the trade in illegal timber. VPAs are bilateral agreements between the EU and timber-producing countries which are legally binding once the VPA has been ratified. Central to the legal and governance reforms sought by VPAs are Timber Legality Assurance Systems (TLAS) designed to verify the legality of timber. Within the Vietnamese VPA, a key reform is the introduction of legislation requiring Vietnamese importers to conduct due diligence to avoid the import of illegally harvested or traded timber – something Vietnam resisted agreeing to for years but agreed in May 2017, just prior to initialing the VPA. Once fully operational, Vietnam’s TLAS will issue FLEGT licenses to accompany timber exported to the EU and only licensed timber products will be exported to the EU by Vietnam.

* Timber issued with a FLEGT licence is considered to meet the requirements of the European Timber Regulation (EUTR), Europe’s flagship anti-illegal logging legislation which exists to ensure no timber with any risks of illegality enters the European market. EU operators placing FLEGT-licenced timber on the European market are not required to conduct any Due Diligence to ensure their timber is from a legal source

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