Chinese loggers lead destruction of Burmese forests, says report
China in the World | Environment | Livelihoods
Officials and businesses on both sides on the Sino-Burmese border are involved in a trail of environmental crime that threatens to wipe out one of the world’s remaining biodiversity hotspots in Burma’s northern Kachin State, according to a report by London-based NGO, Global Witness.
A Choice for China: Ending the Destruction of Burma’s Frontier Forests, unveiled at a press conference in Beijing last week, alleges that since the domestic logging ban in 1998 Chinese logging companies have turned to illegal imports of untaxed timber harvested in Burma at a fraction of market cost. “The majority is logged by Chinese companies and Chinese loggers,” according to Global Witness campaigner, Susanne Kempel, who spent several weeks collecting evidence on both sides of the border.
“On average, one truck carrying about 15 tonnes of timber, logged illegally in Burma, crosses an official Chinese checkpoint every seven minutes, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” according to Jon Buckrell, also of Global Witness, who is quoted in a press release.
Global Witness has seized on reporting discrepancies to support its claim that 95% of Burma’s timber exports are illegal. Burma reported exports of just 18,000 cubic metres in 2004, while China recorded imports of one million cubic metres.
Trade in timber is officially restricted to just one border crossing, and Burmese law bans the export of high-value timber such as teak. But according Global Witness these regulations are routinely flouted. “We saw more than 15 crossings where timber was coming into China,” says Kempel, and shipments included teak and other high-value timber.
Burma has previously requested Chinese government assistance to act on the illegal trade and in 2001 an agreement was made to strengthen bilateral collaboration. But Global Witness claims that the trade has grown by 60% since then, and that internal controls in Burma have broken down. “There is no forest management. It is all about who gets there first gets rich,” she says.
“We do not expect any action from Yunnan Provincial Government, which is actively promoting the trade,” adds Kempel. Global Witness is turning its attention to engaging with central agencies such as the Ministry of Commerce and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The group is also relating the trade to the issue of HIV/AIDS, which has a high prevalence in border towns such as Ruili where commercial sex is also widespread. Loggers and truck drivers who buy sex may create a bridge for the disease to spread further into China’s interior.
Global Witness plans to return to China in 2006 to map out trade routes for illegally logged timber after it enters the country. This is thought to involve manufacturing companies in Guangdong and eastern China with export markets in North America and Europe.
Report by Matt Perrement, October 28, 2005