Log depot, Myanmar

Room to improve in Europe’s ongoing crackdown on high risk teak from Myanmar

The European Union is cracking down on shipments of illegal teak from Myanmar but needs to step up its game to be more effective.

Logging and the illicit trade in Burmese teak have been directly connected with high-level corruption, the destruction of the country’s forests and violence against its peoples.

After our Forests campaigners first flagged up concerns that Myanmar teak was unsafe to import under European Union Timber Regulation (EUTR), we’ve been encouraged to see a number of enforcement operations take place.

Front cover of our report entitled State of Corruption: The top-level conspiracy behind the global trade in Myanmar's stolen teak

However, we believe enforcement of the EUTR can be further improved by:

  • acting to prevent traders from routing timber through third countries to circumvent the EUTR, which targets the first person to place timber onto – we would have the importing company held responsible as ‘first placer’ even if it is just paying someone else to bring timber into the EU;
  • review and change local laws if they hamper enforcement of the EUTR; for example, in Italy, illicit timber in violation of the EUTR can’t be seized – when authorities seized timber in late 2018 they had to give most of it back;
  • impose substantial fines on companies breaching the EUTR as an additional deterrent for importing high risk wood.

Natural teak from Myanmar is highly sought after by the marine industry and other sectors due to its durability and value.

But meeting this demand has contributed to Myanmar having the third highest rate of deforestation of any country this decade, while the illicit trade in teak over the border with China has driven corruption, conflict and crime.

In 2016, our Forests campaigners filed a series of complaints over violations of the EUTR, which is intended to prevent stolen timber from findings its way into European markets.

Several competent authorities acted on the basis of our information to enforce the EUTR and, after we presented them with our State of Corruption report – which revealed traders openly talking about corrupt payments to Myanmar’s military leaders in exchange for access to high-value teak – in April this year, they responded with the warning that in Myanmar “the State itself is at risk of being in contravention of the law” due to corruption.

The competent authorities further cautioned that there is a significant risk of illegal harvesting for teak from Myanmar and operators should therefore not place it on the EU market.

Significantly, they also rejected the use of certification for placing teak on the EU market until there is greater transparency in forest governance in Myanmar.