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30 May 2006

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Regulating trade
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Myanmar (Burma)

China Blocks Timber Imports From Burma (Myanmar)

China has clamped down on illegal logging in northern Burma by closing its border to the timber trade and ordering Chinese workers to leave the country.[1], [2]

China has clamped down on illegal logging in northern Burma by closing its border to the timber trade and ordering Chinese workers to leave the country.[1], [2]

This unprecedented move follows a decade of rapacious logging by Chinese logging companies in Burma's northern forests.[3] In 2005, China imported more than 1.5 million cubic metres of Burmese timber worth an estimated US$350 million. Almost all of these imports were illegal.[4]

Investigations by Global Witness earlier this month revealed that most Chinese checkpoints have now been sealed to Burmese log transports. Some timber is still entering China via border back roads; however the overall volumes are vastly reduced. Sawmills in China's frontier timber towns are at a standstill and thousands of Chinese timber workers have left the border area.[5]

'This represents a major breakthrough for all those working to halt the predatory exploitation of Burma's forests,' said Mike Davis of Global Witness. 'The Chinese government is showing the way forward by owning up to the problem and shutting the door on log imports.'[6]

The question Global Witness is now asking is whether this signals a permanent change in policy or merely an intermission.

In an encouraging move, the Burmese government has officially requested Chinese help in tackling the illegal outflow of wood.[7] The picture on the ground within Burma remains mixed, however. Global Witness is concerned by reports that where the Burmese authorities have taken action against the timber trade, this has sometimes involved violent attacks on Chinese migrant workers by the army.[8], [9], [10] At the same time the regime's commitment to the logging ban it imposed in the north of the country in late 2005 has shown signs of wavering.[11] As a result timber is now piling up on the Burma side of the border.[12], [13]

'Burmese and Chinese authorities must both make a public commitment to close the border to timber until Burma's forests are managed in a way that is both legal and sustainable,' said Mike Davis. 'Reaching that point will require not only open debate between the two governments but also the inclusion of all key stakeholders, notably civil society, political parties and the armed opposition groups.'

Global Witness believes that the international community has an important role to play in building on the opportunities that China's recent action has created. As an immediate step, western donors should provide funding to grassroots environmental initiatives in Burma, which aim to halt illegal logging and other environmentally destructive activities.

FOR PRESS ENQUIRIES PLEASE CONTACT GLOBAL WITNESS ON +44 207 561 6368

NOTES FOR THE EDITOR

Global Witness is a UK based NGO which exposes the links between the exploitation of conflict, corruption and human rights abuses. See www.globalwitness.org

[1] The order was issued by the Provincial Government of Yunnan, China. It included the trade in timber and minerals and referred to Chinese logging and mining workers.

Source: Xinhua, 'Yunnan Public Security Border Defense Brigade takes actions to ensure the Yunnan-Burma timber and mineral trading cooperation'; 27 March 2006

[2] Source: Global Witness field investigation; Yunnan Province, China; May 2006

[3] Source: Global Witness, 'A Choice for China: Ending the destruction of Burma's northern frontier forests'; October 2005, available in English, Chinese and Burmese from http://www.globalwitness.org/reports/index.php?section=burma

[4] Source: Global Witness estimates based on statistical information from the National Bureau of Statistics of China, and China Customs made available by The World Trade Atlas; February 2006

[5] Border checkpoints in all but one area along the China-Burma border visited by Global Witness investigators had been closed. Source: Global Witness field investigation; Yunnan Province, China; May 2006

[6] In October 2005, in direct response to Global Witness' report 'A Choice for China' the governments of both Burma and China publicly denied that any illegal timber trade took place between the two countries. However, in the last six months the two governments have had at least three high-level meetings on curbing the illegal timber trade: in November 2005, February 2006 and April 2006. In addition, in early 2006, both the Burmese and the Chinese governments admitted publicly that a problem with illegal cross-border timber trade exists. For further information, see previous Global Witness press releases, available from http://www.globalwitness.org/press_releases/pressreleases.php?type=burma

[7] Source: Global Witness interviews, Rangoon, Burma; February 2006

[8] Source: Global Witness field investigation, Yunnan Province, China; January 2006

[9] Source: Global Witness field investigation, Yunnan Province, China; May 2006

[10] Source: Xinhua, 'Yunnan Public Security Border Defense Brigade takes actions to ensure the Yunnan-Burma timber and mineral trading cooperation'; 27 March 2006

[11] Source: Global Witness field investigation, Kachin State, Burma; February - April 2006

[12] Source: Global Witness field investigation, Yunnan Province, China; May 2006

[13] Source: Global Witness field investigation, Yunnan Province, China; January 2006

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