On Burmese Teak: Insights from Barber Cho

Barber Cho is an authority on Burmese timber trade. In fact, one can say that he wrote the book – literally. He is Secretary of the Myanmar Forest Certification Committee, advisor to the Myanmar Forest Products Merchants Federation, as well as regional director of F. Infinity Chalon Co., Ltd. in Bangkok. (The company sells Burmese timber products to Europe.) He talks about the Teak industry and trade in Myanmar.

Teak is vital to Myanmar’s forest economy and politics. From 1988 up till recently, successive governments have been accused of exploiting forest resources indiscriminately for financial gain, said Cho. Up till 2010, the forest products sector was one of the top three income earners in the country. However it slipped from the rankings since the country banned log exports in April 2014. 

The attraction of Teak

The main export markets for Burmese Teak are the EU, India and Southeast Asia. According to Cho there is almost no competition from other Teak producing countries, in terms of quality and timber for bigger specifications. He said, “For countries—such as Italy—that pay tremendous attention to quality, Burmese Teak is often preferred over other countries’.”

On the other hand, there is serious competition from Indonesia where Teak is used for smaller specifications such as lamparquet.

“Teak is nearly irreplaceable when we consider the machinability of wood,” said Cho when asked if there was any species in Myanmar that has similar characteristics and could be marketed as an alternative to Teak.

However he acknowledged that Pyinkaod and Padauk, both a kind of rosewood, could be considered as decent alternatives. 

Government sanctions for sustainability

While Myanmar has laws in place to govern timber harvesting, strict enforcement has proven to be a challenge for various reasons. Sustainability, though, is high on the government’s agenda.

The first Forest Act was enacted as early as 1902. It has been updated over the years. Today, the National Forestry Plan (NFAP), which was established in 2001, outlines the forestry situation to year 2030/31. The NFAP covers a range of forest activities, including optimising the extraction of teak and hardwood within available means, extending forestry research and enforcing effective laws against the illegal extraction of forest resources. This will ensure the sustainable harvest of Teak, protection of forests against degradation, environmental conservation and increase foreign exchange by exporting more value-added products.

In addition, to further ensure forestry sustainability in Myanmar especially with regard to natural Teak resources, Burmese companies must comply with the Myanmar Selection System (MSS) and the Annual Allowable Cut (AAC) when harvesting Teak.

Private plantations have been sanctioned by the government since 2007, and this covers mainly Teak. Today, approximately 130,000 to 150,000 hectares are recorded as private timber plantation.

This article first appeared in Panels & Furniture Asia (May/Jun issue)