10/23/2009, 00.00
MYANMAR – CHINA
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Illegal trade in precious wood between Myanmar and China continues

Chinese companies are still getting precious woods from Myanmar despite a ban on logging and exports agreed by the two governments. The Asian giant’s hunger for raw materials drives this trade. One of the most important forested areas in the world in terms of biodiversity is now at risk.
Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Illegally exported timber continues to leave Myanmar for Chinese companies that export the wood to Western markets, British-based group Global Witness said in a report titled ‘A Disharmonious Trade’. Whilst there has been a sharp decline in timber illegally imported into China as a result of action taken by the authorities in China and Myanmar, illegal loggers and smugglers are still using “bribery, false papers, transportation at night and avoiding checkpoints" to get around the restrictions. For this reason, Global Witness called on Chinese and Myanmar authorities to double their efforts to stop the practice that could wipe out Myanmar’s virgin forest.

Smuggling between China and Myanmar is centred on their common border in Kachin State. The trade is conducted in violation of Myanmar laws protecting forests. On the Chinese side of the border, in Yunnan province, most of the area is part of a national park where logging is banned.

According to UNESCO, Myanmar forests have the greatest biodiversity in the world, and heavy deforestation would inevitably endanger it.

Following repeated protests by environmentalists around the world, Chinese authorities put soldiers to patrol the border in 2006 and ordered Chinese merchants in Myanmar to pull out.

Myanmar’s military regime suspended logging and lumber exports via sea and land to mainland China.

But demand for raw materials by the Asian giant’s hunger is constantly growing. China depends for its lumber on Malaysia, Russia, Indonesia, Gabon, but especially Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, which is also a political ally.

Despite directives from the central government, local authorities tend to turn a blind eye to the problem, leaving some sections along the border unguarded where smuggling is king.

This is why, despite good intentions, this trade goes on, says the Global Witness report.

Speaking anonymously, members of the group said that a number of companies on China's east coast said that they were still getting timber from Myanmar, especially teak.

Since 2001, Beijing has sealed agreements with its neighbours to protect forests from illegal logging.

However, as the second largest timber importer in the world (after Japan), China relies on imported wood to meet its domestic needs but also to export finished products.

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