A pile of logged timber in Thazi Township, Mandalay Region in 2010 (AFP)

Myanmar teak exports to US bypassing coup sanctions: activists

Justice for Myanmar report accuses US companies of evading sanctions by continuing to import precious timber, which may help fund the military junta.


Nearly 1,600 tonnes of teak from Myanmar were exported to American companies last year, circumventing US sanctions imposed to deny the junta millions of dollars in profits, activist group Justice for Myanmar said on January 11.

Myanmar has been in turmoil since a February 1 coup triggered widespread unrest that the military has sought to quell with violence — killing around 1,400 people, according to a local monitoring group.

The United States responded by imposing sanctions on Myanmar’s military and its affiliated companies, including Myanma Timber Enterprise, which manages timber sales across the country.

Among the most popular type of “Grown in Myanmar” wood is teak, long favoured by shipbuilders and furniture makers for its durability in wet environments.

Teak imports to the United States were supposed to be barred under targeted sanctions, but activist group Justice for Myanmar found that nearly 1,600 tonnes of timber reached American companies between February and the end of November last year.

“The timber arrived in 82 different shipments… largely consisting of teak board and scantling that are used for shipbuilding, outdoor decking and furniture,” the group said, citing figures from global trade database Panjiva. 

Justice for Myanmar called on the US government to ban all Myanmar timber imports.

“It is likely that even more teak is being exported to the US via third countries such as China,” the report said. 

According to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, a global monitoring group, Myanmar received almost $100 million in revenues from taxes and royalties on the timber trade in the 2017-2018 financial year, while revenues for the entire forestry industry totalled $322 million.

Besides wood, resource-rich Myanmar is replete with jade and gold mines, where the revenues have long been overseen by military-affiliated enterprises that funnel profits towards the powerful army.

The junta has justified February’s coup by alleging widespread electoral fraud in last year’s elections, which Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy had won in a landslide.

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