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Despite ban, timber exports to Vietnam nearing 2016 total

Authorities inspect a timber truck destined for Vietnam in Ratanakkiri in May. Timber exports to Vietnam in the first six months of the year have nearly exceeded the total amount for all of last year. Photo supplied
Authorities inspect a timber truck destined for Vietnam in Ratanakkiri in May. Timber exports to Vietnam in the first six months of the year have nearly exceeded the total amount for all of last year. Photo supplied

Despite ban, timber exports to Vietnam nearing 2016 total

Cambodian timber exports to Vietnam over the first six months of the year have almost surpassed the total amount for all of last year, according to Vietnamese customs data, despite an existing ban on the trade – which one analyst said had “entirely failed” in light of the continuing multimillion-dollar trade.

The data, obtained and released by US-based NGO Forest Trends, show a massive 313,000 cubic metres of Cambodian timber – valued at $142 million – was registered by Vietnamese customs between January and June, including both sawn wood and raw logs.

By comparison, Vietnamese customs data show total timber imports for all of 2016 were 318,232 cubic metres – despite a “crackdown” by an anti-logging task force and ban of exports to Vietnam announced in January of that year.

The director of Cambodia’s General Department of Customs and Excise, Kun Nhem, was unreachable yesterday to verify the figures with Cambodian records. Presented with the new customs data figures yesterday, Minister of Environment Say Sam Al declined to comment unless given the official Vietnamese customs reports.

Timber exports to Vietnam.

The bulk of the 2017 exports crossed the border during the first three months of the year, a surge that has been attributed to a “systematic” logging operation backed by Vietnamese traders.

That frenetic logging, according to a report by the Environmental Investigation Agency, decimated swathes of forest in Ratanakkiri province and was allegedly facilitated by huge payments to officials on both sides of the border.
Following the EIA report’s release in May, Sam Al said an investigation into the role of local authorities in the operation was underway.

However, no further details about suspects have emerged.

Broken down, the new data show Vietnamese customs authorities received about 170,000 cubic metres of sawn timber and 143,000 cubic metres of raw logs between January and June, valued at $110 million and $31 million respectively.

By comparison, Vietnam imported 139,000 cubic metres of logs and 179,000 cubic metres of sawn wood in 2016, according to customs data also compiled by Forest Trends.

Reached yesterday, long-time anti-logging activist Marcus Hardtke said following the “temporary dent” in exports after the crackdown, the trade had “bounced back”.

“The 2016/17 dry season saw a huge spike in illegal exports to Vietnam, the new customs data from 2017 once again confirm the findings of the EIA investigation,” he wrote via email.

Phuc Xuan To, an analyst with Forest Trends, also said the Cambodian government’s announcement of its export ban had made little impact on the trade.

“These figures clearly show that ‘export ban’ entirely failed,” he said.

Additional reporting by Chhay Channyda

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