Report Exposes Vietnam’s Illegal Timber Trade

A report from two environmental groups found that Vietnam’s illegal logging is threatening some of the last intact forests in South-East Asia.

The report from UK-based Environmental Investigation Agency and Indonesia’s Telapak says that increasing raw timber prices has caused some countries to attempt to thwart illegal logging.

However, while the problem subsides in one country, it rises in another, a situation authors call “Ëœprogress undermined by corruption.’

“Over the last decade, governments around the world have made a raft of pronouncements regarding the seriousness of illegal logging and their determination to tackle it,” the authors of the Borderlines report say.

“Yet the stark reality is ‘business as usual’ for the organized syndicates looting the remaining precious tropical forests for a quick profit.”

The report said some of the timber is coming to the UK in the form of garden furniture, which they believe accounts for about 90 percent of the country’s total wood exports. This violates Laotian laws, which ban the export of logs and sawn timber.

The Vietnamese government has been counterproductive in their attempt to regulate logging while simultaneously encouraging the wooden furniture industry to expand.

“Vietnam is now exploiting the forests of neighbouring Laos to obtain valuable hardwoods for its outdoor furniture industry,” they wrote.

The authors reported meeting a Thai businessman who claimed to have paid bribes to secure a batch of timber.

“They gain virtually nothing from this trade; instead, the money goes to corrupt officials in Laos and businesses in Vietnam and Thailand,” said EIA’s head of forest campaigns, Julian Newman.

Both groups agreed that western importers of such goods must take responsibility and refuse to accept uncertified lumber.

“To some extent, the dynamic growth of Vietnam’s furniture industry is driven by the demand of end markets such as the European Union and US,” the report wrote.

“Until these states clean up their act and shut their markets to wood products made from illegal timber, the loss of precious tropical forests will continue unabated.”

While researchers found that many retailers had “taken the necessary steps” to purchase legal timber from Vietnamese producers, they also found that some companies in the UK had not.

In 2003, the EU has formed an initiative called Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade, aimed at forming partnerships with timber producing countries.

In 2006, Malaysia began establishing a Voluntary Partnership Agreement. In 2007, Indonesia followed suit.

Around 60 percent of Indonesia is forested, accounting for 10 percent of the world’s tropical forests.

However, the report notes that a problem with VPAs “is that end products such as furniture are currently not included on the list of timber categories to be controlled.”

Gareth Thomas, the UK’s International Trade and Development Minister, said the report raised a number of concerns.

“We will explore with G8 colleagues whether there is G8 action we can take in this area.”