The European Union has quashed concerns of several Cambodia environmental NGOs over a trade deal on tropical timber with Vietnam, saying that the scheme is to promote legally harvested timber, EU Ambassador to Cambodia George Edgar said.
In an email to Khmer Times on Monday, Mr Edgar said the EU has encouraged Cambodia to take necessary steps to curb illegal logging and that Cambodia and Vietnam should maintain an open dialogue and coordinate their efforts to address the problem on the ground.
He said that the EU was committed to combating illegal logging and associated trade, and noted that Vietnam will need to develop its Vietnam Timber Legality Assurance System, and strengthen its mechanisms to detect violations after ratification of the Voluntary Partnership Agreement.
He said that before the start of Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade licensing from Vietnam, there will be a period in which Vietnam develops and implements its timber legality assurance system and other related measures outlined in the VPA.
“The FLEGT licensing scheme will only commence after the EU and Vietnam have assessed the operational readiness of the timber legality assurance system, and are both satisfied that it meets the objectives of the VPA,” Mr Edgar said.
If properly implemented, the FLEGT VPA has the potential to support the enforcement of relevant laws in Cambodia, Mr Edgar said.
“While the FLEGT VPA is expected to have a significant positive impact in promoting trade in legally and sustainably harvested timber, the import of illegally logged timber from Cambodia also requires commitment and action from the Cambodian side,” he said.
Last week, a group of environmental NGOs called on the EU to postpone signing the trade deal on timber with Vietnam until it declares a moratorium on illegal timber imports from Cambodia’s forests.
The NGOs said that there are serious flaws in the agreement between the EU and Vietnam because of the continuous flow of illegal timber into the Vietnamese market from Cambodia.
In June, the UK-based Environmental Investigation Agency 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.
Ouch Leng, an environmental activist and chairman of the Cambodia Human Rights Task Forces, said he was concerned about the VPA as he has many times witnessed Vietnamese smugglers transporting illegal timber from Cambodia’s forests.
“How could the EU trust VTLAS as Vietnam has usually smuggled timber from Cambodia, Laos and other countries?” Mr Leng said. “So I can say that the EU is a troublemaker. This is the main cause of upcoming large-scale illegal logging and timber smuggling across the border because if there is no buyer, there is no seller.”
“I also think that this is a legal explanation by the EU to defend their timber business scheme. I can say that the EU smells at only billion Euros from timber business with Vietnam,” he said.
Agriculture Minister Veng Sakhon said he was optimistic that the EU would work hard to combat illegal logging as listed in its mission.
“I think the EU has clear mechanism and it pledged to protect the forest and prevent illegal timber trade. I met Vietnamese Agriculture Minister last week. He also vowed to work with Cambodia to crack down on illegal logging at the border, so I think the agreement will do no harm to Cambodia,” Mr Sakhon said.
Cambodia and Vietnam formed a joint committee on Monday to prevent illegal timber products from being imported into Vietnam, according to Mr Sakhon.