Since the 1950s, the rich tropical forests of the Greater Mekong region have been steadily depleted by the world’s growing appetite for timber. Did you know that if all the countries in the region excluding China — that’s Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam — were counted as one, they would rank among the top five largest exporters of wood and wood products in the world?
Recognizing the impact of the timber trade on natural forests, governments in the Greater Mekong region have come up with laws to regulate logging and timber exports over the last few decades. These regulations have sought mainly to protect existing forests while encouraging a shift toward value-added wood processing industries.
Some countries, like Vietnam and Thailand, have successfully managed the transition to wood processing. But Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos continue to struggle with implementing and enforcing forest laws. Insufficient political will and collusion among officials, businesspeople and criminal groups have been some of the biggest obstacles, resulting in wood processing countries benefitting at the expense of their poorer neighbors.