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New timber ban questioned

Illegal loggers move a section of rosewood through a clearing in Oddar Meanchey’s Dangrek Mountains on the Thai-Cambodian border in 2014.
Illegal loggers move a section of rosewood through a clearing in Oddar Meanchey’s Dangrek Mountains on the Thai-Cambodian border in 2014. Heng Chivoan

New timber ban questioned

As of January, another of Cambodia’s highly traded varieties of rosewood will be protected by an international convention as an endangered species, but given past “dodgy trade”, observers are sceptical of how meaningful that protection will be.

Demand from the Chinese market for Burmese rosewood soared in 2013 after one of its cousins – the much sought-after Siamese rosewood – was added to Annex 2 of the UN Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and the Cambodian government outlawed all harvest and trade in the precious hardwood.

Last month, at a meeting of its 183 member states in Johannesburg, CITES elected to add Burmese rosewood to Annex 2. Listing a species under Annex 2 means that all exports must first be certified by the country of origin’s CITES management authority.

The management authority is required to assess – among other things – whether the specimen was legally acquired and whether its harvest and export would be detrimental to the country’s remaining stocks of its species.

The Cambodian CITES management authority did not respond to repeated requests for comment on the Burmese rosewood ban. However, Jago Wadley – senior forest campaigner at London-based NGO Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) – said in emails this week that he did not believe the Cambodian management authority was up to the task of enforcing Burmese rosewood’s new listing when it comes into force in January.

“We understand that Cambodia does not have inventory or population data that would enable them to credibly judge on detrimentality,” Wadley said. “It is our understanding therefore, that Cambodia is unlikely to have legitimate grounds to issue any CITES export permits for the species.”

Wadley’s concern comes in the wake of revelations earlier this year that almost half a billion dollars worth of Siamese rosewood has been exported to Vietnam from Cambodia since it was listed as protected in 2013. Attempting to explain these figures, the Cambodian and Vietnamese management authorities have accused one another of corruptly issuing and authorising CITES export and import permits.

“We anticipate a similar round of dodgy trade under CITES in [Burmese rosewood] from January 2017 onwards,” Wadley said. “The species is a look-alike replacement species for Siamese rosewood, and Cambodia is a range state. Vietnam imports quite a lot from Laos and Cambodia and other range states, usually for onward shipment to China.”

Vietnamese customs data provided by the NGO Forest Trends showed almost $4.5 million of Burmese rosewood being imported from Cambodia in the first nine months of this year, while imports of Siamese rosewood were down to just $250,000.

Denis Smirnov, a consultant on the illegal timber trade, said yesterday he believed the Vietnamese customs data were probably representative of actual trade and that he shared EIA’s concerns. “Credible data on populations or distribution of Burmese rosewood in Cambodia and Laos is not available,” he said.

However, he added, “we can quite confidently suggest that resources of luxury wood species in Cambodia are heavily degraded”, and there is no reason to believe their export would not be “detrimental to the survival of these rosewood species”.

Due to a misunderstanding of how measurements are formatted on the CITES database in Geneva, a previous version of this story contained an inflated measurement for the number of cubic metres of Siamese rosewood crossing the border from Cambodia to Vietnam. The Post sincerely apologizes for the error and any confusion it may have caused.

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