One-year logging ban proposed

A temporary ban on logging has been proposed to the government and is likely to be approved, according to Myanma Timber Enterprise managing director U Saw John Shwe Ba, though restrictions are not yet in place, as has been widely reported.

Though U Saw John Shwe Ba told The Myanmar Times that a one-year ban on logging is “90 percent sure” earlier this week, a senior official at the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation and others said logging had not yet been outlawed, with restrictions only an option.

The logging sector in Myanmar faces a host of challenges, from illegal extraction to insufficient official data, and the new government must balance the business interests of stakeholders with environmental concerns.

A September 2015 report by UK-based watchdog the Environmental Investigation Agency said about one-half of Myanmar is blanketed in natural forest – but that its cover is shrinking at a quick clip.

“Myanmar’s forests are in the midst of rapid decline and are increasingly degraded, with natural forest cover declining by 2 percent every year,” the report said. “[It’s] deforestation rates are among some of the highest in the entire region.”

The country lost a total of 1.7 million hectares of forest cover from 2001 to 2013, according to the report, which predicts that by 2030 forest loss could hit 30 million hectares.

Exports of raw timber have been outlawed under Myanmar law since 2014. In the fiscal year 2013-14, these exports were worth US$637.5 million according to government figures, although that number is likely to be much higher given the volume of illegal trade, mostly with China and Thailand.

Now, a ban has been floated regarded logging all wood species, according to U Saw John Shwe Ba.

“The plan is just for one year for the moment, because the nature of this industry goes year-by-year. But this plan depends on the government and the people,” he said.

“If they want a long-term ban, they have to do it.”

Despite its unofficial status, activists worldwide have applauded Myanmar’s apparent move toward a logging ban. Environmental organisation Greenpeace tweeted out congratulations on April 29 on the news logging had been prohibited in the country’s forests.

And petition group Force Change called the country’s choice to outlaw logging “worthy of praise”, even drafting a letter of commendation for users to sign and send to President U Htin Kyaw.

However, it is not certain that any ban will go into effect.

“As far as I’m concerned, this is one of the options to be included in the management plan,” said timber trade expert U Barber Cho when asked about a potential ban on logging. He said estimates put Myanmar’s teak stores at 200,000 tonnes and its other hardwood stock at 500,000 tonnes. “It will be enough for at least two years for the local consumption,” he said.

Meanwhile, some say a ban could create issues for the logging sector, as restrictions could make illegal logging an even bigger problem.

Currently, illegal exports are estimated to make up about three-quarters of Myanmar’s timber trade, according to Oxford Business Group’s Myanmar 2016 report, which also said 10,000 tonnes of illegal timber were seized in the first half of 2015.

Questions remain whether a ban could help save Myanmar’s forest cover. “If we do not have the maximum level of law enforcement, can a logging ban contribute to our conservation objectives?” asked U Barber Cho.

Source: The Myanmar Times

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