Corruption sustains illegal logging trade, says watchdog

Timber worth hundreds of millions of dollars is being stripped from Myanmar’s forests and sold to China, says a report by an environmental watchdog that exposes the massive scale of the illegal logging trade.

The trade was worth US$600 million a year, making it one of the single largest overland flows of illegal timber in the world, the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency said in a report released on September 17.

The report, launched at the Danish embassy in Beijing, is based on research and undercover investigations undertaken during the past two years in the illegal trade across the border between Kachin State and China’s Yunnan Province.

“Everyone is cashing in, from the Chinese timber kingpins driving demand and the assorted Kachin armed groups to Myanmar’s army and government authorities,” EIA senior forest campaigner Jago Wadley said at the launch.

Trucks pass through Myanmar government and military checkpoints, Kachin armed group checkpoints and on through Chinese Customs gates, where taxes are collected and the illegal logs are illegitimately “legalised” by the Chinese state, it said.

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Myanmar introduced a log export ban in April 2014 and regulations in Yunnan Province prohibit imports of timber not authorised for export by the Union government.

“But none of this counts because corrupt cash payments from an organised criminal network bribe influential actors in Kachin, the Myanmar army and Chinese Customs to pave the routes that have facilitated nearly a million cubic metres of illegal log imports into China in both 2013 and 2014,” said Mr Wadley.

The trade appeared to have peaked in 2005 when one million cubic metres of logs crossed the border, the EIA said.

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