Cambodia and Vietnam are seeking better cooperation to combat the illicit timber and wildlife trades, following a meeting between the two countries’ forestry administrations last week.
The Agriculture Ministry’s forestry administration deputy director Chan Ponika said a number of officials, including him, participated in the five-day meeting in Vietnam.
Among those who joined the meeting were officials from the customs and commerce departments, and military police.
Some of those who attended were from Mondulkiri, Ratanakiri, Kratie and Stung Treng provinces.
“We discussed bolstering cooperation regarding the legal timber trade between Cambodia and Vietnam and strengthening law enforcement in each country,” he said.
On documents to prove the legality of traded timber, he said: “We told them, without these documents, [the timber] is illegal. We told them that, and we also asked them to report to us immediately should they see any irregularities.”
In the meeting, the Cambodian representatives also raised a working group that was formed to monitor relevant issues. “We previously formed this group, but it was not so effective. So now we are reactivating and optimising it,” said Ponika.
He said the Cambodian representatives shared a presentation on the Kingdom’s regulations regarding the timber and wildlife trades to the Vietnamese officials who were present at the meeting, among whom were customs, armed forces and police officials.
When asked how Cambodia could ensure Vietnam would cooperate by not accepting illegal timber from the Kingdom, Ponika just said: “I don’t know what to say, but we already explained to them what legal timber looks like.
“We hope after Vietnam signed a free trade agreement with the EU, [Cambodia] will receive a lot of support from it [Vietnam] as it has promised to support the projects we proposed,” he said.
Ponika was referring to the project where Cambodian officials proposed to improve the livelihood of people living at the border who resort to timber and wildlife trades as their sources of income.
The next phase of the plan, he said, was to reduce the villagers’ dependency on illegal logging and wildlife hunting by encouraging them to grow vegetables and fruits.
“The project would shift their earning sources so they can make a living. Hence, we proposed this project. Vietnam said they know how to raise the financial resources to back the project”, said Ponika.
Adhoc senior officer Pen Bunna believes “it is ridiculous for Cambodia to have a meeting with another country to deal with this very issue”, and that “we already have enough regulations”.
He claimed that monitoring the timber trade is not as difficult as busting drug traffickers because people can easily hide drugs.
“Timber is hard to hide. Officials just don’t pay attention to the [illicit activities] and have no commitment to enforcing the laws,” he said.