By SEAN GLEESON | FRONTIER
YANGON — Illicit timber exports from Myanmar to China have declined dramatically in the last six months after a high-profile diplomatic incident brought renewed attention to the trade, according to a London-based environmental watchdog.
The Environmental Investigation Agency said on Monday that monitoring of key crossing points for illegal timber showed the trade had experienced a “sharp downturn” since September 2015. In the last six months, most timber flows across the border were facilitated by the carriage of rosewood and teak on motorbikes and in passenger vehicles instead of on trucks, the EIA said.
The EIA attributed one reason for the decline to the arrest and conviction of 155 Chinese loggers in Kachin State last year, initially handed terms of between 10 and 20 years’ imprisonment by the Myitkyina District Court in July 2015.
The sentences sparked protest from Chinese state-run media and China’s Foreign Ministry, and all 155 men were released a week later along with nearly 7,000 other prisoners by presidential amnesty. The loggers, most of whom came from the Chinese border town of Houqiao, had their trucks and equipment confiscated and were unlikely to cross the border again, according to the EIA.
Myanmar has the third-worst deforestation rate in the world, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, which last year reported the country had lost an estimated 546,000 hectares of forest cover each year since 2010.
Last year, the EIA estimated the illegal timber trade between Kachin State and China’s Yunnan province to exceed 900,000 cubic metres of logs in 2014, worth around US$500 million.
The timber trade in Kachin State has fluctuated over the years. In 2004, Global Witness estimated that more than 1 million cubic metres of timber were illegally exported to Yunnan Province from northern Myanmar, representing around 95 percent of total timber exports to China. Four years later, Global Witness said the trade had declined by 70 percent to around 440,000 cubic metres of timber.