Vietnam will be enacting a “temporary suspension” of timber imports and re-exports sourced from natural forests in Cambodia and Laos, according to a government circular from the country’s Ministry of Industry and Trade. The circular takes full effect on December 8 but does not indicate when the suspension will end. Officials from the Ministry of Industry and Trade did not reply to requests for comment.
Sources on the Cambodian side were not aware of the circular, which was signed on October 24 and publicly released on the ministry’s website yesterday morning. “I’m hoping it’s a good [thing],” said Bunra Seng, Cambodia country director of Conservation International. However, Seng said he was not sure if the circular would make a dent in the substantial logging in northeastern Cambodia near the Vietnamese border.
Cambodian timber is often exported to Vietnam – and from there to China – with Cambodian business tycoon Try Pheap accused of amassing tens of thousands of luxury wood logs in Kampong Thom province destined for the country last year. But the practice is far from new. According to a 2008 report from the Environment Investigations Agency, Vietnam had closed about three-quarters of its state logging companies by 1997, and began receiving large amounts of timber from Cambodia and Laos.
“The Vietnamese timber industry is very much dependent on timber from Cambodia, because they protect their own forests,” said opposition lawmaker Son Chhay, who has investigated logging issues in the past. “I’m not sure if [the circular] is just to please the international community or if it’s a real thing.” A senior official in Cambodia’s forestry administration told the Post that even if the circular was implemented, the effect would be difficult to determine, as government statistics of exports to Vietnam do not depict the reality. “This is very difficult to answer, because officially, we have a number of statistics of exports to Vietnam; if they [implement the] ban, the effect could still be very small.”