|PHOTO: Investigators were surprised by the "brazen" nature of the timber smuggling. (Supplied: EIA)|
Illegal logging operation in Cambodia, Vietnam prompts demand for crackdown on imports to Australia
ABC | 9 May 2017
The Australian Government is being urged to check wooden furniture imported from Vietnam, after the discovery of a massive illegal logging operation.
Investigators say logs from national parks in Cambodia are being smuggled across the border to Vietnam, where they are being used in the country's flourishing furniture industry.
"This is the single largest log-smuggling operation that we have seen for years," said Jago Wadley, senior forests campaigner at the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).
The EIA estimates that between November and March at least 300,000 cubic metres of timber was cut down in Cambodia's north-eastern Ratanakiri province and exported to Vietnam, despite a logging ban.
The operation was facilitated by millions of dollars in bribes to local officials, with stockpiles located near Vietnamese military outposts on the border, according to the EIA investigation.
The frenzy of illegal logging began late last year, driven by Vietnam's other neighbour Laos starting to enforce its logging laws.
This left Vietnam's timber processing industry without enough raw material.
"So it has obviously set its sights on Cambodia as an easy replacement source of cheap illegal tropical wood for its market," said Mr Wadley.
Importers fail to check timber
The EIA did not track the illegally-felled Cambodian logs through Vietnam so it is not yet known where the products ended up.
"We have in the past seen western consumers buying outdoor furniture very often manufactured in Vietnam made with very highly suspect timber from countries like Laos and also Cambodia," said Jago Wadley.
Australia is a major market for the Vietnam timber industry.
Last year, Australia imported $300 million worth of timber products from Vietnam — mostly wooden furniture.
"Australia has the illegal logging prohibition act of 2012 which puts the onus on the importer to demonstrate that the timber, or the trees from which the timber was produced, were legally harvested," said John Halkett, general manager of the Australia Timber Importers Federation.
However, most importers are failing to conduct due diligence.
In February, the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources released the results of compliance checks of the 512 biggest importers.
It found only 35 per cent complied with the overall due diligence requirements.
Only 8 per cent of furniture imports were made with certified timber.
The checks are part of an extended "soft start" to enforcing the 2012 legislation, with no penalties for importers who fail to verify their timber products.
Mr Halkett said the complex supply chains made it difficult for smaller importers to carry out the necessary checks.
He also said most of the timber used in the Vietnamese imports was sourced from plantation-grown acacia trees.
"Those plantations are harvested and made into furniture which is sold through a number of large national furniture networks in Australia," said Mr Halkett.
PHOTO: It's illegal to import this wood in Australia but compliance with checks is low. (Supplied: EIA)
"I think it's a different story when you talk about species out of natural forests [from Cambodia] ... and there's well established records that significant amount of that timber finds itself into Chinese markets and from there of course into world markets, particularly markets that are importing furniture."
China is the largest supplier of timber products to Australia, exporting $2.7 billion worth to our shores last financial year.
The EIA said Australian shoppers should not have to worry about buying products made from illegally-logged timber.
"They're not in a position to navigate the complex world of regulatory compliance that's needed to identify illegal timber in these types of products and they expect governments and companies to clean up this sector for them," said Mr Wadley.
"So the Australian Government can look into what its importers are bringing on to the market in Australia and potentially use laws at its disposal to maybe do something about it," said Mr Wadley.