Cambodian and Vietnamese officials on Monday began a five-day conference to discuss timber trade management, including an incoming trade deal between Vietnam and the European Union that has been decried by environmentalists.
Vietnam has been working to reach a timber agreement with the EU for over a decade and is set to ink the Voluntary Partnership Agreement, which has left environmentalists concerned as they maintain that Vietnam’s timber industry is stocked by illegal wood from Cambodia.
Keo Omaliss, director-general of Cambodia’s Forestry Administration, said both sides met with experts in Ho Chi Minh city to discuss timber trade policies.
Phạm Văn Điển, deputy director-general of Vietnam’s Forestry Administration, was quoted by Vietnamese media saying that Cambodia supplies timber to factories in Vietnam.
“To combat the illegal timber trade, both Vietnam and Cambodia must improve institutional and legal frameworks,” Mr Pham said. “But it seems like the two countries find it difficult.”
Chan Ponika, a deputy director-general of Cambodia’s Forestry Administration, said during the conference that the meeting should be a platform to share experiences that could be used to address the issue.
Reached by phone yesterday, Mr Omaliss said the conference is vital for both countries to ensure a sufficient stream of timber is supplied from legal sources.
He said that by doing so, Cambodia is helping Vietnam to reach a trade deal on timber with the EU.
“Vietnam can only reach a deal with the EU if Vietnam is able to ensure that timber sources are legal,” Mr Omaliss said. “The trade agreement will benefit both countries.”
Environmental groups have criticised the trade agreement after reports were published accusing Vietnam of importing illegally obtained timber 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, chairman of Cambodia Human Rights Task Force, yesterday said the conference does not have the intention to protect forests and that the EU and Vietnam have ignored forestry crimes for decades.
“I know that this is the business game, but it is Cambodia who is losing. The government of Cambodia should export timber directly to the EU rather than losing taxes and royalties over this trade,” Mr Leng said. “It’s because mafia businesses never pay taxes, they only pay to smuggle.”
Marcus Hardtke, an anti-logging activist, yesterday said protected areas funded by the EU were destroyed by Vietnamese companies in Virachey National Park.
“We have not seen any legal measures taken by the EU regarding large-scale illegal logging and timber laundering by Vietnam for many years,” Mr Hardtke said.
The EU is scheduled to sign the VPA with Vietnam under the European Timber Regulation this month.