Cambodia exported millions of dollars worth of unprocessed logs along with sawn timber from Siamese rosewood and some of the country’s other rarest species to Vietnam last year despite various government orders banning such trade, according to a new report.
The report, released Friday by the U.S.-based NGO Forest Trends and four Vietnamese timber associations, details the meteoric rise in Cambodia’s timber exports to Vietnam over the past three years by drawing on Vietnamese customs data.
It shows sawn wood exports mushrooming from 51,000 cubic meters worth $45 million in 2013 to 378,000 cubic meters worth $362 million in 2015, making Cambodia Vietnam’s top supplier by value and third by volume.
The report attributes Cambodia’s rapid rise to recent targeted export bans in Laos and Burma and deregulation in Vietnam, which no longer asks its importers to seek permission from the country’s Ministry of Industry and Trade.
The new rules, the report says, have “created an open mechanism for importing wood materials into Vietnam from Cambodia. It not only simplifies import procedures, but also allows the import of timber materials at all border gates between [the] two countries.”
Cambodia imposed a blanket ban on all timber exports to Vietnam in January, acknowledging that much of the trade was illegal, something environmental groups had been saying for years. NGOs say the new ban has significantly dented the trade but failed to wipe it out completely, with smugglers still making it across on a regular basis.
The new report shows past bans being flouted as well.
Cambodia’s 2002 Forestry Law prohibits the logging of rare trees. Though the government never followed through with a sub-decree naming the species the law covered, a list of rare species it drew up years earlier includes some of the same ones that Forest Trends found being exported into Vietnam up to 2015.
The report also found that Cambodia over the past three years exported $35 million worth of Siamese rosewood, the logging of which was banned by Prime Minister Hun Sen in early 2013, though the numbers fell sharply last year.
Forest Trends found an even bigger spike in Cambodia’s export to Vietnam of unprocessed logs, which was banned two decades ago. According to the report, Cambodia exported 405 cubic meters of logs worth $700,000 in 2013 and 57,700 cubic meters worth $16.9 million in 2015.
“The inconsistency of policies which relate to the harvesting, transport and trade of logs…make the legality of imported Cambodia[n] logs into Vietnam questionable,” the report says. “But currently there is no clear explanation why these logs continue to be imported despite the Cambodian government’s export ban.”
A spokesman for Cambodia’s Commerce Ministry, which regulates and monitors the country’s foreign trade, could not be reached on Sunday.
Past reports have found much of Cambodia’s timber export to Vietnam moving on to China to feed the country’s appetite for high-end wood furniture and helping fuel one of the world’s fastest deforestation rates at home.