Government Records Show Spike in Timber Exports to Vietnam

Cambodian government records show a dramatic increase in exports of sawn wood to Vietnam despite an official ban on the trade, lending credence to Vietnamese import records and a recent environmental NGO report of unabated wood exports to the country.

Cambodia’s general department of customs and excise tracked 1,380 tons of sawn timber heading to Vietnam from the beginning of last month to on Tuesday, a total that is more than five times the figure counted by the department over the entire first three months of this year.

cam photo timber KHMER
Authorities inspect a truck stopped on suspicion of hauling timber without a license in Tbong Khmum province near the Vietnam border last month . (Fresh News)

The haul since April 1, worth nearly $485,000, accounts for almost half of the roughly $1 million in sawn timber the department has recorded since the second half of last year, all despite a ban on unfinished timber exports to Vietnam that has been in place since January last year.

But the Cambodian data pales in comparison to figures from Vietnam, which tallied $95.8 million worth of timber imports from Cambodia over the first three months of the year, according to data tracked by U.S. NGO Forest Trends.

The numbers bolster claims from the U.K.-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), which released a report on Monday describing systematic illegal logging orchestrated by both Cambodian and Vietnamese officials. Observers from EIA said the timber was sourced from protected areas in Ratanakkiri province and trafficked to Vietnam starting at the end of last year and continuing into this year.

The Agriculture Ministry issued a statement on Monday saying it was aware of a spike in illegal logging beginning midway through last year. It instructed provincial-level officials to cooperate with local authorities to put a stop to the illicit wood trade.

A Commerce Ministry spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on the trade, while Finance Ministry officials could not be reached.

Conservationist Marcus Hardtke, a veteran investigator of illegal logging, said the government had yet to produce a document describing the ban.

“There’s no legal basis without an official framework,” he said.

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