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EU timber deal in firing line

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Logs hauled onto a Vietnamese transporter in O’Tang for delivery to Vietnam in February last year. EIA

EU timber deal in firing line

A committee of more than 20 national and international organisations filed a petition to the EU on October 10 to prevent it from signing a timber trade agreement with Vietnam, noting that the deal would be disastrous to the Kingdom’s forests.

The petition claims Vietnamese timber traders bribed provincial officials and logged illegally, forcing indigenous peoples to sell their ancestral land cheaply.

It also claims that at least 300,000 cubic metres of timber were stolen from Cambodia’s eastern provinces over six months and exported in unprocessed round logs – illegal in Cambodia since 1996.

The petition claimed technical experts concluded that Vietnamese authorities aided and promoted large-scale forest crimes. Instead of preventing illegal trafficking, they issued the necessary permits to enter the Vietnamese supply chain.

There are tens of thousands of logs stored near several border posts under the control of the Vietnamese military, the petition claimed.

“The Vietnamese authorities [are not willing] to assist Cambodia in enforcing forestry laws and export regulations. [Forestry crimes in] Cambodia can take several forms – it can involve protected tree species or timber products that are illegal to export. It also frequently involves tax evasion and the fraudulent use of permits,” the petition claimed.

The petition said Minister of the Interior Sar Kheng publicly announced in September that he will act against forest criminals who collude with government officers to gather, transport and export timber on a large scale. Even though there had been some intervention, the raids were limited.

Environmental activist and Goldman Environmental Prize winner Ouch Leng said the agreement to increase the timber trade between the EU and Vietnam would encourage large-scale theft of Cambodian state property worth millions of euros annually.

Leng said many park rangers, environmental officers and journalists had been killed in recent years trying to stop the illegal trafficking.

He said the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) can wait for proper assurance that Vietnam will stop smuggling timber from Cambodia before being implemented.

“I think the agreement will cause destruction to Cambodia’s forests because Vietnam does not have forest reserves. They will be encouraged [to trade] timber from Laos and other countries, especially from Cambodia, which is a timber warehouse and the biggest [source of timber] for Vietnam,” Leng said.

Neither Ministry of Environment spokesperson Tin Ponlok nor Ministry of Environment secretary of state and spokesman Neth Pheaktra could be reached for comment on Sunday regarding the issue.

Leng said he received a response from the European Commission officials in the Asia-Pacific region that they would discuss the issue before signing the agreement.

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