By ELAINE KURTENBACH, AP Business Writer
BANGKOK (AP) – US companies continue to import teak from Myanmar despite sanctions imposed after the military seized power last year, a report based on trade data said on Tuesday.
Teak is one of the most valuable hardwoods, used in yachts, flooring, doors, window frames, and furniture. Myanmar is the largest producer of timber, although its natural forests are shrinking.
U.S. importers were still receiving teak shipments from the Southeast Asian country in December even though sanctions were put in place in April, according to data from the Panjiva global trade database. Similar trends have been reported in Europe.
Human rights group Justice for Myanmar compiled the data. He urges the United States and other governments to clamp down on the teak trade in accordance with sanctions against the country’s military rulers.
These US Treasury sanctions, announced on April 21, 2021, ban transactions with Myanmar Timber Enterprise, a state-owned company under the country’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation. It alone supervises timber exports and sells to private companies by auction.
The sanctions prohibit all transactions with the company or persons related to it by US persons and companies. He also imposed sanctions on the Minister of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection appointed by the military.
The European Union imposed similar sanctions in June. It also prohibits transactions with the Burmese company Forest Products Joint Venture Corp.
Yet sales and shipments of teak and other valuable hardwoods to the United States continued. The wood arrived in 82 different shipments between February 1 and November 30, 2021, mostly teak planks and other wood items used in shipbuilding, outdoor decks, construction and furnishings.
By buying through intermediaries, importers circumvent sanctions, the report says.
“Considering that the sanctions are aimed at blocking trade with MTE and that timber exported from Myanmar is originally auctioned by MTE”, the military still receives funds from the trade “regardless of who officially exports the timber”, indicates the report.
He urged the US government to enforce the sanctions and investigate possible violations of the restrictions.
It is not known exactly where the teak ends up, as it is imported by lumber suppliers and other manufacturers. But teak is often used for patio furniture, decks, and yachts because of its flexibility and durability.
The Burmese army, led by General Min Aung Hlaing, removed Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected National League for Democracy government on February 1, 2021. Suu Kyi was arrested and charged with a dozen crimes. On Monday, the 76-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate was sentenced to an additional four years in prison, in addition to the two-year sentence she was ordered to serve in previous cases.
The military takeover drew nationwide non-violent protests, which security forces quelled with deadly force, killing more than 1,400 civilians, according to a detailed list compiled by the Prisoner Assistance Association policies.
Peaceful protests continued, but armed resistance to the crackdown grew, to the point that UN experts warned the country could slide into civil war.
Timber is one of Myanmar’s most resource-rich industries, earning millions of dollars a year in taxes and export earnings. An auction held in June of around 10,300 tonnes of illegally harvested timber that was confiscated by Suu Kyi’s government brought in $ 5 million in revenue, local media reported.
Myanmar’s military sold the timber from a stockpile of around 200,000 tonnes of illegal timber, according to reports.
Myanmar began allowing private companies to establish teak and other timber plantations in 2006, ending the state monopoly on the industry. In 2014, the government banned exports of all raw timber, lifting the ban on timber from public and private plantations but keeping it in place for timber from natural forests.
Teak exports go through a special approval process.
But a significant portion of the teak shipped out of the country is smuggled across land borders. Panjiva’s data only included teak shipped directly from Myanmar, not other exports through intermediate destinations such as Eastern Europe, Taiwan and Thailand.
The coup sanctions overlap with other restrictions on teak imports meant to protect declining rainforests, as teak and some other species are endangered in the wild.
The European Union has strict requirements for documenting the origin of every log or plank of wood. Myanmar suppliers have often not provided such clear evidence that the exported timber was legally harvested, as environmental groups and EU reports have shown.
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.