Despite the presence of a blanket ban by the Cambodian government on all trade in Siamese rosewood since 2013, exports of the precious timber to Vietnam increased in the third quarter of this year, according to Vietnamese customs data compiled by US-based NGO Forest Trends.
Between January and June, 17 cubic metres of rosewood, valued at $38,151, were registered as entering Vietnam from Cambodia. By the end of September, that figure had increased more than five-fold to 90 cubic metres, with a registered total value of $258,983.
In 2013, the same year that Cambodia outlawed its trade, Siamese rosewood was listed by the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) as a protected species.
Under the convention, cross-border trade in listed species must be accompanied by import and export permits issued by both countries’ CITES Management Authorities (MAs), which are staffed by employees of each countries’ government.
Neither the Cambodian nor Vietnamese MAs responded to requests for comment yesterday. However, the Cambodian MA has repeatedly denied having issued export permits for Siamese rosewood in the past three years since Phnom Penh banned its trade.
For its part, the Vietnamese MA has repeatedly insisted that it only allows imports of Siamese rosewood when accompanied by a valid CITES export permit issued by the Cambodian MA.
Vietnam has produced copies of export permits and verification emails dating between 2013 and 2015 in support of its claim, which the Cambodian MA has in turn denounced as forgeries. In September, Interpol was invited to assist in an investigation into the controversy.
NGO Environmental Investigation Agency senior forest campaigner Jago Wadley said in an email yesterday that Vietnam had no business accepting imports of Siamese rosewood from Cambodia in 2016.
“In late 2014 at the latest Vietnam’s CITES MA had been explicitly informed by Cambodia’s MA that that Cambodia had outright banned the harvest, domestic trade, or export of Siamese rosewood,” Wadley said. “Vietnam should have refused all and any applications to import Siamese rosewood . . . from that point onwards.”
“Vietnam’s apparent acceptance of further Siamese rosewood imports as late as 2016 suggests Vietnam may be in wilful violation of the spirit, if not the rules of CITES. Vietnam had reason to believe trade was neither legal nor sustainable, yet appear [to] have abandoned those facts in favour of permitting ongoing trade,” he said.