Illegal trade with China threatening Burma's environment
Naypyidaw is set to impose a total ban on lumber exports in 2014. Environmentalists welcome the step but worry it might not be enough to stop deforestation and save rare species. Beijing's eyes on the billion dollar trade threaten Burma's nature.

Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Environmentalists and conservationists have welcomed the Burmese government's decision to ban completely timber exports in 2014 in a bid to stop the destruction of the country's forests and their unique wildlife. However, illegal logging to feed China's furniture factories and poaching to supply traditional medicine markets will be difficult to stop, because of lack of resources, undermining government efforts.

A ban on exports-earning 10 per cent of Burma's foreign revenue in 2006 according to the European Forest Institute (EFI)-is being imposed to protect remaining forests as well as develop a sustainable hardwood export market.

Myanmar is currently one of the world's biggest exporters of teak, but excessive legal harvesting of timber, illegal logging and the combined effects of felling for firewood and slash-and-burn agriculture are taking a heavy toll.

The problem is that the high standard of management of Burma's forests that existed in the first half of the 20th century has been eroded since the military took over in the sixties, with its corollary of inadequate data collection and plain mismanagement.

In the 2010-2011 financial year, Myanmar officially earned more than US 0 million exporting 864,000 metric tonnes of timber, with India, Japan and Thailand as the main importers.

Illegal logging remains the main concern however. "Figures for [Burma's] forest products trade are unreliable, often contradictory and do not include nonofficial exports ('illegal'), including cross-border trade, which has been substantial in the past, especially along the Yunnan (China) border," the EFI report noted.

Around 70 per cent of Burma's rural population of at least 30 million "depend heavily on forests for their basic needs," according to a UN Food and Agricultural Organisation report released in 2009.

Half a million of them rely on forests for employment and are the most affected by the effects of deforestation and natural disasters like floods, droughts and landslides."

For this reason, experts want to see a serious policy that combines environmental protection, forest management and warden policing system.

The World Wildlife Fund estimates that trade in rare animals and plants is worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year.