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Timber trade sanctions sought

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Environmental Investigation Agency says rosewood trees face extinction in the Kingdom due to illegal logging. EIA

The UK-based Environmental Investigation Agency on Wednesday called for a rosewood trade suspension against Vietnam, accusing it of accepting fake Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species permits from Cambodia.

The EIA issued a statement saying that documents submitted by Cambodia to the CITES secretariat constitute evidence that Vietnam accepted fake permits for Siamese rosewood, which faces extinction in Cambodia.

“Especially, Cambodia’s submission describes how the trees were harvested illegally and imported into Vietnam under fake CITES permits notwithstanding that they [Vietnam’s CITES management authority] had been previously informed on several occasions of the illegality of those permits,” the statement said.

While CITES is classifying the shipments as “illegal trade” outside of its scope to address, Cambodia’s submission make clear that Vietnam’s CITES management authority violated the convention by hiding behind fake permits, it said.

“Vietnam then illegitimately issued its own CITES permits based on the known fake Cambodian permits to authorise re-exports of much of the Siamese rosewood to China where it is in demand for the production of high-end hongmu furniture,” it said.

“We note with some concern that Vietnam’s CITES management authority is set to be the agency issuing licenses for ‘legal timber’ under an EU-Vietnam trade deal due to be signed later this year – raising significant apprehension as to the competency of this arrangement,” it added. “We urge that a trade suspension be placed on Vietnam for all exports or re-exports of all Dalbergia species.”

Anti-logging activist Marcus Hardtke said that Vietnam was unable or unwilling to stop the flow of illegal timber into the country.

“The Cambodian government has to impose a total moratorium on timber exports from natural forests to Vietnam. This is the most effective, and maybe the only way to reduce illegal logging in Cambodia,” Mr Hardtke said.

He said that CITES was one of the more effective international conservation agreements.

Permits were allegedly forged by timber traders. EIA

“Rosewood smuggling is no technical issue. It’s international organised crime. A lot of money is involved,” Mr Hardtke said.

Environment Ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra said that Cambodia and Vietnam have been cooperating to curb illegal logging.

“Cambodia and Vietnam are working together to combat illegal logging,” Mr Pheaktra said, declining to comment further.

Agriculture Minister Veng Sakhon said that he could not comment because he has yet to see the EIA report.

“I have not yet seen the report, so I don’t know,” Mr Sakhon said.

Nao Thuok, a secretary of state at the Agriculture Ministry, also said that he was unaware of the report.

In June, the EIA released a report saying that more than one million cubic metres of illegal timber flowed unhindered from protected areas in Cambodia’s northeast provinces to Vietnam as the latter continued its role as a serial illegal timber trade offender.

It said that Vietnam recently signed a timber trade agreement with the European Union, prompting large volumes of illegal timber to flow across the Cambodian border from protected areas and wildlife sanctuaries in three areas.

The three areas included Virachey National Park in Ratanakkiri province, the forests surrounding the Lower Sesan 2 dam in Stung Treng province, and Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary in Mondulkiri province.

Earlier this week, Interior Minister Sar Kheng said that illegal logging in Mondulkiri province went unchecked and that an amendment to the forestry law was needed to delegate more power to local authorities.

Mr Kheng said on Facebook that he will push for the amendment to increase the protection of the country’s forests.

“The forest protection law does not provide power for competent authorities to curb illegal logging done by some bad people who export Cambodia’s natural resources,” Mr Kheng said.

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