On 5 November 2019, over 140 stakeholders will gather at the Shwe San Eain Hotel in Naypyidaw to start work on a roadmap of priority actions to promote legal timber production and trade in Myanmar. The event will be led by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation (MONREC) and the European Union. Representatives from government, civil society, and the private sector from all 15 states and regions will participate. For many it will be the first time to represent their stakeholder group and to join a national-level discussion on improving forest governance.
Myanmar has a long history of good forest management, but in recent decades has seen a significant loss and degradation of its forests due to over-harvesting and unsustainable forest management practices. In 2015, Myanmar was reported as having the world’s third-highest annual rate of deforestation with forest cover declining from 65% in 2000 to 45% in 2015.
Myanmar teak from natural forests is unique in the world and enjoys a reputation in the global marketplace as a premium, high-quality hardwood, known for its durability, insect and water resistance, and aesthetic properties. It is in high demand, primarily for the furniture and boat-building sectors, and global demand exceeds what nature has to offer, if supply would only come from sustainably managed forestry.
The MONREC is making efforts to restore Myanmar’s reputation as a supplier of high-quality timber products from sustainably managed forests through working to improve forest law enforcement, governance and the trade of legal timber (FLEGT) in cooperation with the European Union.
The Myanmar government and stakeholders have been working to address these concerns. A national log export ban has been in place since 2014, and a one-year logging ban was issued for the 2016-17 harvesting season. In 2017, MONREC committed to allowing independent observers – such as civil society organizations – to observe the harvesting process.
In 2018, a landmark document known as the Chain-of-Custody Dossier was produced which describes all the steps for producing legal timber in state-managed forests. In the same year, a national Multi-stakeholder group and 15 state, respectively regional-level multi-stakeholder groups were established, providing a platform for dialogue and deliberation for civil society, government and private sector stakeholders.
In the wake of the multi-stakeholder meeting, Ms Dørte Pardo López from the Directorate General Environment of the European Commission said: “Since 2013, the European Timber Regulation prohibits the import of illegally harvested timber into the European Union (EU) internal market and obliges importers to exercise due diligence to ensure that the risk of illegally harvested timber timber entering the European Union market is, at most, negligible. Myanmar has actively engaged with the competent authorities, the European Union and timber industry to make it possible to establish such a negligible risk. Today, we are launching work on a concrete roadmap of activities to address the many remaining challenges. European countries, whose demand for hardwood from Myanmar puts pressure on its precious and unique resources, need to support efforts to improve forest governance and legal timber production. In this spirit, the European Union is committed to continue engaging with Myanmar on addressing these challenges.”
The multi-stakeholder workshop on 5 November will begin identifying strategic activities that build on multi-stakeholder participation and other FLEGT related work that have taken place since 2015.
Workshop participants will identify issues potential buyers of Myanmar hardwood might encounter, when trying to access information on the relevant legislation, on compliance and on risks of illegal harvest of timber in Myanmar. They will also discuss the scope of national legislation applicable to timber harvest and try to identify solutions for the issues found.
Although Myanmar does not yet meet the conditions necessary for negotiating a Voluntary Partnership Agreement, stakeholders have asserted that developing a definition of what constitutes ‘legal timber’ according to Myanmar law, will help to identify areas where rules and regulations can be improved to meet the requirements of countries that exclude illegally harvested and risk timber from their markets.
The European Union has supported Myanmar in implementing strategic FLEGT priorities i.a. through the FLEGT Facility and the FAO-EU FLEGT Programme, and will continue to do so in the future.
Background on the EU Timber Regulation
In 2010, the European Union passed the legislation known as the European Timber Regulation (EUTR), which prohibits operators from placing illegally harvested timber or timber products on the European market. These operators have to exercise due diligence to assure that all timber was harvested in accordance with the applicable legislation in the country of harvest and that, at most, the risk of illegal harvest of the timber they intend to purchase, is negligible.
The operators have to put in place a due diligence system consisting three steps: (1) Gathering information related to the legality of timber harvest; (2) Assessing the risk of illegal timber entering the supply chain. If the second step finds that there is a significant risk of illegality, then the operators must (3) take adequate risk mitigation measures to reduce the risk of illegal harvest to a negligible level. If reducing the risk is not possible, the timber or derived product shall not be placed on the EU market.
Since 2017, the EUTR/FLEGT Expert Group has concluded that it is not possible to take adequate measures to mitigate to a negligible level the risk that timber imported from Myanmar has been harvested illegally. Already the first step is not possible due to the weakness in accessibility of reliable, publically available information on the applicable legislation, in key areas, such as harvest plans, bylaws and applicable legislation, compliance and risks.
It is difficult to estimate the volume of Myanmar timber exported to the EU. The majority of Myanmar teak is traded with China, India and Thailand, with estimates that 4 million m³ of teak wood worth USD 2.79 billion was traded between 2007-2017. It is estimated that a significant portion of this trade is re-exported onwards to European and American markets, but will remain considered as non-negligible risk timber or derived products and thus may not be placed on the EU market.
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Press & Information Policy Advisor
 FAO Global Forest Resources Assessment 2015.
 The FAO-EU FLEGT Programme is a programme of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, which is funded by the European Union, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, and the Department for International Development of the United Kingdom. The Programme provides technical and financial support projects that encourage legal and sustainable timber production and consumption.