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Laos & Cambodia rosewood exports violate UN treaty

Laos & Cambodia violate UN treaty with illegitimate exports of endangered timber


LONDON: Criminality and corruption have swept a flood of endangered rosewood exports from Laos and Cambodia which fundamentally violate trade protections imposed by the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

In the new report Red Alert, the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) reveals that in the first 18 months of CITES Appendix II protection for Siamese rosewood (Dalbergia cochinchinensis spp), the two countries’ combined exports equalled 120 per cent of the largest known remaining populations of the species. The only known wild stocks are the 80,000 to 100,000 trees estimated to exist in Thailand in 2011.

Demand for rosewood to feed the voracious Chinese market in Hongmu reproduction furniture has pushed the species into such a crisis that it was given CITES Appendix II protection in March 2013.

International trade in Appendix II species may be authorised via export or re-export permits – but only if the relevant authorities are satisfied trade will not be detrimental to the survival of the species in the wild and that the timber is legal.

However, EIA’s report details how neither Laos nor Cambodia have credible inventories of remaining populations to justify any exports at all, or likely any evidence of legality, as required under the Convention.

EIA is calling for an immediate suspension of all trade in Siamese rosewood from Laos and Cambodia until they demonstrate trade levels are not detrimental to the survival of the species in the wild and that the timber is legal.

Failing that, EIA believes the vast scale of trade raises concern that a planned strengthening of the existing Appendix II listing – which EIA has advocated and Thailand has proposed to CITES – may not be enough to ensure trade does not lead to the effective extinction of Siam rosewood.

EIA Senior Forest Campaigner Jago Wadley said: “Laos and Cambodia have systemically disregarded the most basic legal safeguards of UN trade rules for endangered species in ways that seriously undermine the credibility of CITES, while edging Siamese rosewood ever-closer to extinction; CITES intervention is urgently required.”

In Cambodia’s case, the country has either incorrectly or illegitimately issued CITES export permits for most of the 12,202m3 of Siamese rosewood exported between June 2013 and December 2014.

The situation in Laos is even more chaotic and serious; Laos exported 63,530m3 of Siamese rosewood in 2013 and 2014 – just over Thailand’s entire 63,500m3 of estimated stocks.

Although some rosewood may be harvested in Laos from forest conversion projects such as dam-building, these have consistently been used to launder illegally logged timber. Further, reports on the ground allege that the state-owned electricity provider Electricite du Laos routinely demands illegally logged Siamese rosewood as payment for hooking up villagers to the national grid.

In March 2014, a rosewood trader in China offered to sell EIA undercover investigators numerous export permits issued by Laos’ CITES Management Authority, covering thousands of cubic metres of rosewood logs. Rosewood from anywhere could be falsely attached to these permits to facilitate entry into China.

Wadley added: “All the indicators betray a governance culture where the rule of law is replaced by forms of state-sponsored crime in key ministries which influence the implementation of UN treaties such as CITES.”


  • Interviews are available on request; please contact Senior Forest Campaigner Jago Wadley via [email protected] or telephone +44 20 7354 7960.



  1. The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) investigates and campaigns against environmental crime and abuses.
  1. Read and download Red Alert here.
  1. More about the Hongmu industry and the threat to Siamese rosewood in the EIA report Routes of Extinction: The corruption and violence destroying Siamese rosewood in the Mekong.
  1. More about the global Hongmu trade and widely sought species in the EIA report The Hongmu Challenge.


Environmental Investigation Agency
62-63 Upper Street
London N1 0NY
Tel: +44 207 354 7960