New Vietnamese customs data for April shows timber continued to flow across Cambodia’s border to Vietnam despite Cambodian authorities announcing a ban on lumber exports to the country’s eastern neighbour more than a year ago.
The data, compiled by US-based NGO Forest Trends, suggests about $14 million worth of timber was registered by Vietnamese customs authorities during that month.
The volume of timber exports, however, dropped compared to previous months, when the eastern provinces experienced a major spike in logging, according to a report by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).
Nevertheless, processed wood exports remained “substantial”, said Phuc Xuan To, an analyst from Forest Trends.
According to the figures, Vietnam imported 21,670 cubic metres of sawn wood valued at $13.7 million in April, a 27 percent drop compared to February and an almost 50 percent decrease compared to March.
Meanwhile, the trade in raw logs fell substantially, with only 6,269 cubic metres, valued at $1.7 million, exported in April, according to the figures, compared to almost 52,000 cubic metres in March.
Cambodian police arrested several Vietnamese loggers at the end of March and Xuan To said the authorities’ intervention could explain the drop in April.
The arrests, however, appeared to only scratch the surface of what EIA investigators found to be a “systematic” logging operation backed by Vietnamese timber traders between November and the end of March, which they estimated stripped more than 300,000 cubic metres from forests, predominantly in Ratanakkiri province.
Environment Minister Say Samal has said the ministry is investigating the involvement of Cambodian state officials in the operation detailed by EIA, though he yesterday declined to provide updates on the probe, while also saying he doubted the accuracy of the Vietnamese customs figures.
Representatives from Cambodia’s own General Department of Customs and Excise could not be reached yesterday to verify the numbers.
Cambodia ostensibly banned exports to Vietnam in January 2016, when Prime Minister Hun Sen assigned Military Police Chief Sao Sokha to lead an anti-logging task force to crack down on timber smuggling.
Adhoc coordinator in Ratanakkiri Din Khany said by phone yesterday that the timber trade with Vietnam remained constant.
“There is still wood transported to Vietnam every day,” Khany said, adding that most of the timber was moved under the cover of darkness.