Questionable Cambodian wood exports to Vietnam surge 800 percent: Report

Surging exports of Cambodian wood into neighbouring Vietnam in recent years are raising new concerns over illegal logging of Cambodia’s dwindling natural forests according to a new report released jointly by Forest Trends, the Vietnam Timber and Forest Products Association, the Handicraft and Wood Industry Association of HCMC, and the Forest Products Association of Binh Dinh.

Imports of both logs and semi-processed sawn wood from Cambodia increased 800 percent in volume from 2013 to 2015 according to monthly provincial trade data obtained from Vietnam’s Ministry of Industry and Trade. This wood, valued at US$681 million, allegedly came from Cambodia’s threatened natural forests, as opposed to plantations. Despite a log export ban in 1996, cross-border trade in logs alone surged to US$17 million in two years.

The new report is the first to draw on detailed official Vietnamese customs data on imports of logs, sawn wood, and other wood products crossing the border.

Cambodia is now the largest supplier of wood to Vietnam by value as neighbouring Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam have started to reduce their own harvest levels or restrict log exports.

Laos has begun to enforce its long-standing log export ban, while Myanmar in the past two years has instituted both a log export ban and, more recently, a total logging moratorium through March 2017.

“This dramatic surge in trade shows that declining supplies due to increased enforcement in one country can put pressure on other countries to ramp up supplies,” said Kerstin Canby, director of the Forest Policy, Trade, and Finance program at Forest Trends. “Unfortunately, this is squeezing demand to those countries that have proven unable or unwilling to control illegal logging – and the largest impact is on vulnerable forest ecosystems and indigenous communities who live in them.”

The percentage of imports classified as rosewood and other high-value, rare, and threatened species nearly doubled between 2013 and 2015, according to the Vietnamese customs data. These high-value woods made up just 45 percent of Vietnam’s sawn wood imports from Cambodia in 2013, but comprised 82 percent by 2015.

The report has major implications for the ongoing negotiation of a Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) between Vietnam and the European Union, which aims to ensure that all wood products exported from Vietnam are legally sourced.