Wed 31 May 2006
Filed under: Business / Trade,News
China has closed its borders to timber imports from Burma, according to a London-based rights group.
A press statement issued by Global Witness on Tuesday said the Chinese government has ordered its workers to leave Burma. The move comes after a decade of rapacious logging by Chinese companies in Burma’s northern forests.
The press release said that the more than 1.5 million cubic meters of Burmese timber imported by China in 2005-worth an estimated US $350 million-was mostly the product of illegal logging.
Checkpoints along the China-Burma border have been closed to logging trucks from Burma since early May, according to the press release, but some timber still crosses the border via back roads. Thousands of Chinese timber workers have also been pulled from the border region.
â€œThis represents a major breakthrough for all those working to halt the predatory exploitation of Burma’s forest,â€ Mike Davis of Global Witness said in press release. â€œThe Chinese government is showing the way forward by owning up to the problem and shutting the door on log imports,â€ he said.
According to one resident along the China border who requested anonymity, timber trucks still manage to cross the border late at night when it is more difficult for border guards to spot them. â€œUsually the Chinese troops are withdrawn early in the evening,â€ the resident said.
â€œWhen they catch traders, they release them after charging a fine of 5,000 to 6,000 RMB ($623 to $748) per vehicle,â€ the resident added. â€œOne vehicle carries about five to six tons. Nearly 1,000 tons [of timber] still enter China every day.
An official announcement of the new timber policy was issued by Chinese authorities in mid-May. â€œThe [announcement] stated that authorities would arrest anyone importing timber or doing logging and confiscate timber and vehicles, but they have not started following the order yet,â€ the resident said.
Davis of Global Witness said that Burmese and Chinese authorities must both make a public commitment to close the border to timber trade until Burma’s forests are managed in a way that is both legal and sustainable.
â€œReaching that point will require not only open debate between the two governments but also the inclusion of all key stakeholders, notably civil society, political parties and the armed opposition groups.â€
A senior leader from the Kachin Independence Organization said that the closing of the border timber trade will impact local villagers, as logging is their principal means of income.
The statement from Global Witness also urged western donors to fund grassroots environmental initiatives in Burma to halt illegal logging and other environmentally destructive activities.