New analysis of the Myanmar Government's forestry and trade data points to a multi-billion dollar illegal logging and exports black hole – indicating widespread criminality and official corruption.
The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) today released the new briefing Data Corruption: Exposing the true scale of logging in Myanmar, scrutinising official figures on log harvests and timber exports over the past 15 years.
The figures, from the Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry, were published by Myanmar's Eleven Media group earlier this month.
Shockingly, official export figures for 2000-13 account for only 28 per cent of all recorded international trade in Myanmar logs – suggesting that 72 per cent of log shipments were illicit.
Global buyers reported 22.8 million m3 of log imports from Myanmar, 16.4 million m3 more than claimed in official export statistics. If loaded into freight containers laid end to end, the unauthorised exports would stretch 2.3 times the length of Myanmar's Irrawaddy River. These illegal exports were worth nearly US$6 billion – four times the combined 2013-14 education and health budgets for the entire country.
EIA also found official harvest volumes over the period constituted merely 53 per cent of reported imports of Myanmar logs, resulting in a 47 per cent illegal logging rate across the country for exports alone.
Faith Doherty, EIA Forest Campaign Leader, said:
"The Government's official data on forestry and timber exports reveals endemic illegal logging and timber smuggling – crimes only possible through institutional corruption on a huge scale."
When discounting log transits across Myanmar's land border with China, which Myanmar's Government deem illegal, officially recorded export volumes were just 38 per cent of recorded imports, indicating that 62 per cent of log exports – about eight million m3 – were not authorised. Even excluding the country's main illegal logging hotspots, illegal trade through Government-controlled areas resulted in 2.6 million m3 of logging in excess of authorised harvest volumes, generating in a 20 per cent illegal logging rate.
Doherty added: "EIA research shows that these crimes have been occurring throughout the country, including in areas fully under the control of the Myanmar Timber Enterprise. By proposing a log export ban from April 1, 2014, the Government of Myanmar is acknowledging that vast amounts of the country's forests raw material in the form of logs have been looted and sold at less value than they are worth. The log export ban in itself is just not enough. More needs to be done."
EIA has called on the Government of Myanmar to:
• vigorously enforce the log export ban effective from April 1, 2014;
• significantly increase transparency in the management of forest resources;
• stop favouring established cronies in forest resource allocation;
• ensure civil society involvement in the planned restructuring of the Forestry Ministry;
• investigate and prosecute companies or Government officials involved in illegal logging and timber smuggling.