Working towards greater community control over land, forests and natural resources

Timber exports to come under greater scrutiny

Vientiane Times, 8 July, 2013

Finance Minister Phouphet Khamphounvong last week issued an instruction to various departments to pay more attention in managing wood exports, aiming to ensure that all revenues from timber flow to the national budget. In the past years, the government has issued a number of laws, regulations and decrees to manage wood exports but these have been insufficiently enforced, creating loopholes for illegal logging activities.

Under the new instructions, the state asset authorities are assigned to work in cooperation with the relevant sectors to inspect vehicles carrying timber to initial processing facilities such as sawmills. Meanwhile, wood exports must be permitted only at international border checkpoints.

The new instructions stipulate that the export of processed woods, timber, roots and other half finished wood products must comply with the Prime Ministerial Order, No.17/PM, dated September 22, 2008 on the enhancement of forestry management and protection and wood businesses.

Before exporting timber or wood products, exporters in Laos must have contracts with foreign companies and payment systems must be made through banks in Laos. “If exporters do not follow this system, they will not be allowed to export the timber or wood from Laos,” says the instruction.

The Ministry of Finance urged authorities at border checkpoints to strictly inspect all vehicles carrying wood or timbers for export and if illegal woods or timbers are found, the authorities can seize the shipment and fine the offenders based on the laws. It warned that authorities who cooperate with or assist entrepreneurs to export illegal logs will be disciplined, while the entrepreneurs will face legal action.

Laos used to have one of the highest percentages of forest cover in the world. In 1940, Laos had 70 percent forest cover, comprising some 17 million hectares. As the country develops, forest cover is in rapid decline due to various factors including illegal logging. In 1992, forest coverage was about 47 percent of the total land surface area and this further decreased to about 42 percent in 2002. As of 2010, it stood somewhere around the 40 percent mark. Some forestry officials have said that Laos’ forest cover may continue to increase, yet the majority of large trees have already disappeared from many areas, including protected areas, sparking concerns about sustainability.

Illegal logging practices are believed to supply the timber used to manufacture about one-fifth of the world’s wooden products. The highest levels of illegal logging are found in developing and emerging market countries. According to the EU FLEGT Action Plan, illegal logging costs governments vast sums of money. Estimates suggest that illegal logging costs timber-producing countries 10-15 billion euros per year in lost revenues.

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