Vietnam’s announcement that it would temporarily suspend the import and re-export of unprocessed timber from Cambodia and Laos may not benefit the Kingdom’s forests as much as it may seem, experts on the timber trade told the Post yesterday. Vietnam’s Ministry of Industry and Trade, which declined to comment immediately for this article, made the announcement in a circular released Tuesday, which takes effect on December 8.
The circular may have good intentions in part, said Forest Trends analyst Phuc Xuan To, citing experts at the ministry who were worried that Vietnam was being blamed for regional deforestation. However, the suspension only affects logs and sawed wood that are re-exported from Vietnam to another country, which means timber can still be imported into Vietnam from Cambodia and exported as long as it is processed domestically. “Yes, the ban could be considered as a good step in the right direction – the direction to improve the image of the Vietnamese timber industry,” said Xuan To. Thus the ban could bolster Vietnam’s booming furniture industry, which exports mainly to the EU, US, and China, said Jago Wadley, senior forest campaigner at the Environmental Investigations Agency. Wadely said the ban could be to collect more taxes, as timber in Vietnam was previously given a tax rebate if it stayed in the country for a short period of time, encouraging its rapid export. Wadley added that the ban, by forcing timber imported into Vietnam to be processed, “adds material to the pool of material available to domestic manufacturers, who are increasingly competing with China for materials from Laos and Cambodia”.
Vietnam is currently negotiating with the EU to become an adherent of FLEGT (Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade) standards, which ensure EU-imported timber is legal in origin. FLEGT Asia coordinator Alexander Hinrichs said regional developments in the timber industry “are explored during negotiations”.