October 21, 2009 / 5:45 AM / 10 years ago

US, Europe demand fuels illegal China-Myanmar timber trade

By Martin Petty

BANGKOK, Oct 21 (Reuters) - The United States may have imported $3.8 billion of illegal timber products from China last year, much of it likely smuggled from neighbouring Myanmar, where illegal logging is rapidly destroying forests, a report showed.

China and Myanmar have made progress in tackling illegal logging but more must be done to stamp out corruption fuelling the trade, London-based Global Witness, an environmental watchdog, said in a report on Wednesday.

China cut its imports of logs and sawn wood from its neighbour by 70 percent between 2005 and 2008, but trade was still thriving due to bribery, falsified documents and poor law enforcement, the report said.

The group said illegal logging was still causing rapid destruction of Myanmar’s northeastern forests, with 270,000 cubic metres (9.5 million cubic ft) of logs and 170,000 cubic metres of sawn timber, most of which was illegal, smuggled into China’s Kunming province last year.

The report estimated the United States, Japan, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Russia were the chief export destinations of the timber, mostly as wooden furniture.

Government crackdowns, it said, had a "significant positive impact" on the flow of wood into China, which is responsible for 10 percent of global trade in illegal timber.

"But (China and Myanmar) should do more to close down the remaining industry, which is almost wholly reliant on the illegal timber supply from Burma," it said, referring to Myanmar’s former name.

Global Witness, which seeks to tackle illegal trade and exploitation of natural resources, said one truck carrying 15 tonnes (tons) of illegal logs crossed the China-Myanmar border every seven minutes in 2005.

However, from 2006 to now, very few were to be seen, although official border checkpoints were still being bypassed and truckers were choosing to transport by night to avoid detection, it said. (Editing by Jason Szep)

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