US opening to Myanmar timber could help save forests

The US Treasury Department earlier this month granted a 1-year waiver on the sanctions on timber trade of American companies with Myanmar.

Under the waiver, timber trade is for US companies and other members of the International Wood Products Association (IWPA), according to Myanmar Timber Enterprise (MTE), a state enterprise in charge of timber trade. The waiver took effect from last July.

“The one-year waiver is granted to American importers who are members of IWPA. They can establish direct trade with Myanmar,” said an official of MTE.

“We will export two types of products; one is timber and the other is finished products,” the official added.

MTE was sanctioned by former President George W Bush in 2008.

According to the official, timber exports were banned in the US during the sanction period. MTE appeared on the US’s Specially Designated Nationals List (SDN).

Due to trade sanctions, a large volume of Myanmar timber and wood products have been exported illegally to neighbouring countries chiefly China and Thailand. China is a major destination of the illegal exports, due mainly to armed conflicts in the northern part of Myanmar which result in poor surveillance along the border.

The Ministry of Commerce’s data showed that the export of teak, hardwood and other timber has reached US$947 million in the 2013-14 fiscal year, despite speculation that the actual value could have been higher.

The trade value of teak, hardwood, plywood and other wood products exported overseas amounted $916 million, while timber exported overland reached $31 million, according to government statistics.

Teak logs were the largest export with a value of $638 million while nearly 34,328 tonnes of teak lumber was exported with a net worth of $31.552 million.

From 2001 to 2013, illegal timber exports amounted to 16.5 million cubic metres with a net worth of $5.7 billion, according to a report from the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).

The report titled “Data Corruption” shows a billion-dollar gap in trade during the last 15 years between the Myanmar government’s records of timber exports and information from worldwide log traders.


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