Editor’s pickLaos log and sawnwood export ban appears successful: Forest Trends

FLEGT,Laos,VPA,Forest Trends,export ban

Limiting raw wood exports will help boost Laos' economic development as processing finished products creates jobs and fetches a higher price. Image: FLEGT.

Decisive actions taken by Laos prohibiting the export of logs and lightly processed “sawnwood” appear to be paying off as the volume of wood products declined sharply between 2014 and 2016.

The analysis by Washington D.C.-based organisation Forest Trends shows exports to China and Vietnam—Laos’ key markets—falling nearly 75 per cent from 2014 to 2016.


Source: Forest Trends


The dramatic decline follows exponential growth in recent years, with volumes peaking in 2014.

Forest Trends analysed import statistics sourced directly from Vietnam and China Customs over a seven-year period. The report authors contend that these findings signal progress towards more effective enforcement of laws and regulations designed to protect Laos’ valuable natural resources.

The goals of the 2016 ban also aim to promote economic development by shifting the industry’s focus toward producing more valuable finished products.

Requiring timber to be processed within Laos before export creates jobs and enables higher sale prices (and tax revenue), thus maintaining most or all of the product value in-country. It also serves to check the country’s challenge with combatting illegal logging and associated trade, as it is more difficult for timber harvesters to illegally “cut-and-run” with raw logs when these logs are required to be transported to domestic mills.

This recent effort to improve Laos’ forest sector has become a cornerstone of Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith’s broader campaign to curb corruption in natural resource management.

Deforestation in Laos has been rampant in recent years, driven by land conversion for large-scale concessions, infrastructure development and illegal logging. The country lost nearly 300,000 hectares of forest in 2015, according to Global Forest Watch.

The Lao government has maintained a strong position on the bans throughout the past year, and is seeking to implement a FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with the European Union.

While the ban has largely been considered a success, Forest Trends notes that there is still pressure to change course on this progress, largely from foreign traders seeking to avoid losses.