EIA stands tough on Myanmar, but backs industry action

NGO the Environmental Investigation Agency continues to maintain that EU operators cannot currently import Myanmar teak in line with EUTR legality requirements. However the EIA’s Peter Cooper told the ETTF that the organisation welcomes action being taken on the issue in Myanmar and the EU.
 
ETTF: What does the Environmental Investigation Agency think are the shortcomings of timber legality evidence currently issued by Myanmar?
 
Peter Cooper, Environmental Investigation Agency (PC): The recent case  against timber company Almträ Nordic in Sweden dealt with the Myanmar Forest Products Merchants Federation (MFPMF) ‘Green Book’, commonly used by EU timber traders to demonstrate EUTR compliance. The court found that these documents do not adequately provide information on the origin of logs, which company conducted the logging, or that Myanmar’s logging laws were followed, and did not constitute EUTR compliance.
 
EIA’s subsequent investigations into EU traders found that none were able to demonstrate sufficient information about their supply chain upstream of  point of sale by the Myanmar Timber Enterprise (MTE). The issues included:
•             Failure to identify who carried out the harvest
•             Failure to identify the concession of harvest
•             Failure to view a harvest permit, or to establish the right to harvest
•             Failure to confirm that harvest conditions were followed, including compliance with the Annual Allowable Cut
•             Failure to confirm correct log harvest/transport markings were applied  
•             Failure to identify transport operators  
•             Failure to confirm that transport conditions were followed
•             Failure to identify gaps in the supply chain between MTE and Pacific Timber Enterprise
 
Failure to address any one of the above points means  EU Timber Regulation Due Diligence could not be carried out and, until MTE becomes more transparent, no Burmese teak can be placed on the EU market in compliance with the EUTR.
 
ETTF: Would EIA favour an EU embargo on Myanmar timber imports pending legality information issues being resolved, rather than individual companies being asked for further risk mitigation information?
 
PC: EIA believes consistent enforcement of the EUTR across all EU member states is vital to ensure a level playing field for EU Operators, and that EUTR Competent Authorities (CAs) should be investigating and communicating the issues to operators placing Burmese teak on the market in their countries. But we are not calling for an embargo. Instead we’re urging MTE to engage in a reform process that would allow compliance with EUTR requirements.
 
ETTF: Do you feel Myanmar timber can be legally imported into the EU, even with additional evidence of illegality risk mitigation? 
 
PC:  We welcome  recent actions from the MTE and the Forest Department (FD) to address these issues, such as removing subcontractors from harvesting operations, reducing the Annual Allowable Cut (and committing to harvesting within this), and strong enforcement actions from the FD. We also note MTE’s acknowledgement that it is currently unable to provide what is needed and that it must work towards a far more open and transparent system. However, at this point in time we do not believe that any Burmese teak can legally be placed on the EU market.
 
ETTF: Would EIA like to see EU member state or industry-wide rules on importing from Myanmar resulting from the EIA investigations individual EU importers?
 
PC: A level playing field is vital for all operators placing Myanmar teak (or any other timber) on the EU market and we have recommended that EUTR CAs investigate this across the entire industry. EIA has also recommended that CAs issue an alert to all Operators in their country on this issue, similar to the guidance issued recently by Germany’s BLE
 
ETTF: What currently is EIA’s core advice to EU companies importing Myanmar teak ?  
 
PC: We believe that any operator placing Burmese teak on the EU market under current conditions will be in breach of the EUTR and risks facing enforcement action from CAs.
 
ETTF: What is the EIA's advice on these issues to the Myanmar industry ?
 
PC: A key aspect of changes needed is the development of independent monitoring, in partnership with the Myanmar civil society organisations currently involved in the Myanmar EU Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT) process. Independent monitoring will provide credibility in Myanmar, and give confidence to EU Operators that they are able to comply with the EUTR
 
ETTF:  Would you urge Myanmar, following its discussions with the EU on the topic,  to sign up to the FLEGT VPA initiative and do you see this as the ultimate solution to its timber legality issues?
 
PC: The FLEGT process is designed to address issues of forest governance and trade in producer and consumer countries. Enforcement actions in the EU, such as those in Denmark, force EU traders to respect Myanmar’s laws, and support reform in its forestry sector. EIA believes there is currently an excellent opportunity and political will to improve transparency and legality in forestry operations in Myanmar, and that the FLEGT process is the correct approach to addressing the issues raised in our EUTR submissions.