A Vietnamese agriculture official has started an investigation into allegations of industrial-scale timber trafficking from Cambodia’s Ratanakkiri province, according to an official from the E.U., which has struck a deal requiring Vietnam’s wood exports to be legally sourced.
An undercover investigation by the U.K.’s Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), released earlier this month, alleges that hundreds of thousands of cubic meters of illegal timber were being smuggled by officials from both sides of the Cambodia-Vietnam border and divvied up among 16 Vietnamese companies to be sold on to other countries. That finding led the report’s authors to label the Cambodian government’s claims of reining in illegal logging “an illusion.”
The allegations of the illicit trade were discussed during final negotiations for the E.U.-Vietnam agreement this month, according to Thanh
Hoang, a program manager for the E.U.’s delegation to Vietnam.
“The feedback we received from the vice-minister [for agriculture] was that investigations have already been launched and action will be taken as appropriate,” he said in an email on Monday.
Vietnam also committed to adding legislation that would strengthen checks on its timber imports, Mr. Hoang said.
“Vietnamese importers will have to take legal responsibility to ensure that the timber they purchase has been harvested, produced and exported in compliance with the legislation in the country of harvest. This will include evidence of compliance with any legal requirement on exports,” Mr. Hoang said.
The Vietnamese Embassy could not be reached for comment.
EIA senior forest campaigner Jago Wadley lauded the stiffened requirements for Vietnamese importers, but said Vietnam needed to do more.
“EIA will be reassured when we see members of the Border Defense force, Customs, and the Gia Lai People’s Committee investigated and prosecuted for corruption, and when it begins to return the illegal wood to its neighbour,” he said in an email.
Longtime conservationist Marcus Hardtke said that despite the agreement, it was difficult to have much confidence in the Vietnamese government’s sincerity.
“We can assume the latest exposure forced their hands a bit,” he said.
“However, considering Vietnam’s history of giving every last piece of timber a legal stamp as soon as it crosses the border, obviously such declarations cannot be trusted at all.”