Thailand and Vietnam have called for strict controls to be placed on the international trade of rosewood in an attempt to prevent the luxury wood species from being logged to extinction.
Cambodia currently exports thousands of cubic meters of the wood to China each year, and high demand for the lucrative timber has sent dozens of Cambodians on deadly searches into Thai territory in recent years. Last year alone, 45 Cambodians were shot dead by Thai authorities while hunting for rosewood.
The proposal is on the agenda for discussion at a 12-day conference that began on Sunday in Bangkok involving the 177 countries party to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). It calls for logs, sawn wood and veneer sheets of Siamese rosewood—found in Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos—to appear on CITES’ list of endangered species.
According to a summary of the proposal on the CITES website, Thailand and Vietnam claim that “all timber that is currently found in international trade comes from illegal logging of wild populations, since its logging is banned in the four range States (Cambodia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Vietnam and Thailand).”
“The main threats to the survival of this species in the wild are deforestation, agriculture and illegal logging.”
Thailand estimates that 50 to 60 percent of its rosewood population has disappeared in the past five to 10 years, the proposal states.
“This scarcity seems to be triggering the high prices of the timber traded illegally on the international market,” the proposal says, adding that Thailand has seized illegal shipments worth $3 billion in the past six years.
“The proponent [Thailand and Vietnam] claims that the over-exploitation of this species stems from a recent and high demand for its wood on the Asian markets.”
According to the agenda of the CITES conference, member states will consider Thailand and Vietnam’s proposal to add Dalbergia cochinchinensis, or Siamese rosewood, to Article II of the convention.
Article II lists species that may become under threat of extinction unless trade is brought under control. Exporters of Article II species must obtain specific permits.
Although the country is not named, China is known as the destination of most rosewood, which trades at thousands of dollars per cubic meter and goes into making expensive furniture, ornaments and musical instruments.
Chinese customs record annual total imports of about 500,000 cubic meters of luxury wood, including a number of species of rosewood, valued at $600 million.
In 2012, about 6,850 cubic meters of luxury wood logs—thought to be largely made up of rosewood—were recorded by China customs as having come from Cambodia. That figure is a slight drop from 9,800 cubic meters of imports recorded in 2011, but shows the trade is still raging to feed demand in China.
As Cambodia’s stocks of rosewood have dwindled due to rampant logging, Cambodians have headed across the border into Thai forests in order to fell rosewood trees. A border official said last week that 45 loggers were shot and killed, and 264 were arrested by Thai armed forces last year alone.
According to a report released last year by London-based NGO the Environmental Investigation Agency, Thailand attempted to have Siamese rosewood listed in CITES in 2008, but the proposal was “rejected by Laos and Cambodia.”
Forestry Administration spokesman Thun Sarath said that Cambodia would support the proposal from Thailand and Vietnam, in line with a recent national directive to curb the trade in rosewood.
Prime Minister Hun Sen last month signed the order for authorities to stamp out logging and selling of rosewood.
“The government has issued an order,” Mr. Sarath said. “Now we try to stop all the traffic…. We also want all Asian countries to apply [a ban].”
Mr. Sarath said that although he did not know exactly how much rosewood remains in Cambodia’s forests, the listing of rosewood in CITES, combined with the government order, could potentially help rosewood make a recovery in the country.
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