LONDON: The European Union’s suspension of sanctions against Burma, which will include lifting the prohibition on direct trade of timber and wood products to EU markets, should be an opportunity to introduce meaningful reform directly benefiting the country’s people.
EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg on Monday (April 23) agreed to suspend sanctions against Burma for one year, opening the way for trade and investment with Western firms.
The move came on the heels of democratic reforms introduced by Burma’s Government and has been supported by National League for Democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The London-based Environmental Investigation Agency welcomed the suspension of sanctions as a step towards greater democracy and freedom but cautioned that the move should not give a green light to open trade in timber.
“After half a century of corruption and rule by the military and their business associates, Burma simply has no credible infrastructure through which we can verify the legality and sustainability of its timber exports,” said EIA Head of Forests Faith Doherty.
“What this historic moment does represent, however, is a unique opportunity to establish a role for civil society in Burma. It must be part of any reform that creates the very infrastructure needed to ensure the invaluable resources of the country’s forests are not squandered for the financial gain of a few but are instead properly managed and traded under the scrutiny of appropriate due diligence for the benefit of the people of Burma.”
Given that the majority of Burma’s natural resources are in ethnic areas, trading in timber and raw materials from Burma without a transparent and verified system will not only accelerate deforestation, it will do nothing to support a much-needed peace process.
While sanctions were in place, the trade of timber and wood products from Burma went mainly through neighbouring countries, with China a driving force behind the demand for cheap high-value timber.
The EU’s Timber Regulation will come in effect in March 2013, prohibiting the import of wood products made from illegally logged timber and requiring timber importers who first place timber and wood products onto the European market to use a due diligence system.
“Illegal logging and destructive forest conversion are hand-in-hand with corruption, crime, cronyism and a multitude of other societal ills suffered by the people of Burma for so long,” added Doherty. “EIA’s work has consistently demonstrated that excluding or significantly limiting civil society participation in the decision-making processes affecting forests exacerbates these problems.
“It is crucial for Europe to keep in mind that there are no safeguards at all in place in Burma. Its forests are in crisis, as are the people who rely on them for their livelihoods and as a life-sustaining resource.
“Burma needs help, and addressing the timber trade without acknowledging the serious governance challenges that come with it would be a massive opportunity lost.”
Interviews are available on request: please contact Head of Forests Faith Doherty, at firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 020 7354 7960.
1. The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) is a UK-based Non Governmental Organisation and charitable trust (registered charity number 1040615) that investigates and campaigns against a wide range of environmental crimes, including illegal wildlife trade, illegal logging, hazardous waste, and trade in climate and ozone-altering chemicals.
2. Historic agreement to curb stolen timber – http://ow.ly/arXsX
3. Transparency vital to landmark timber accord – http://ow.ly/arXrm