Jeremy Hance, a leading environmental journalist, tells us about evidence of rampant illegal logging in Vietnam -- and what needs to happen to combat it.
On Thursday, the European Union and Vietnamese officials signed a forest-law agreement (known as a Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade pact) that would theoretically ensure that all the wood exported from Vietnam to the E.U. has been legally felled.
But the E.U. must be intensely vigilant going forward -- and should walk away if Vietnam doesn’t quickly address its illegal logging epidemic.
The reason for caution is a new report by the Environmental Investigation Agency, which finds that Vietnamese companies have been shelling out millions in bribes for logs cut from national parks and community areas in Cambodia.
The EIA's report on Vietnam is highlighted in this hard-hitting video.
Over just five months, the EIA tracked 300,000 cubic meters of wood illegally cut in Cambodia and then smuggled into Vietnam. This is despite the fact that Cambodia currently has a log-export ban in place and has halted legal timber shipments to Vietnam -- for this very reason.
But Vietnamese officials have undermined Cambodia’s efforts, by issuing quotas that turn this illegally cut and laundered wood into ‘legal’ timber, according to the EIA.
And this illegal-legal timber could find it’s way into the E.U. and other markets -- such as the U.S. and Australia, which have checks on importing illegally logged wood –- if these countries aren’t prepared to staunch the illegal flow.
Why isn’t Vietnam stopping this? One word: Money.
Vietnam currently has the world’s sixth largest export trade in wood –- worth over $7 billion last year –- yet as of last year the country has outlawed domestic logging in its natural forests.
To feed its industry, Vietnam has been plundering its neighbor’s forests for years.
But these latest revelations from EIA shows just how far Vietnam is from controlling its wood sources or respecting the laws of its neighbors. The EIA reports details a vast system of bribes to get Vietnamese officials and security personnel to look the other way.
Illegal logging is devastating some of Cambodia’s last great wildernesses. Conservationists have recently proven that Virachey National Park in Cambodia still harbors many threatened species, including Asian elephants, sun bear, Asian black bear, clouded leopard, golden cat, and Sunda pangolin.
But Virachey Park is just one of the targets for illegal loggers. And the loggers are also notorious poachers -- snaring widely and killing wildlife indiscriminantly.
People are Hurting Too
Vietnam isn’t alone in this dilemma. Illegal logging is a global problem, especially acute in developing tropical nations. It is exacerbating climate change and biodiversity loss, driving conflicts with traditional land owners, and funneling money into a variety of other criminal enterprises such as the illegal drug trade and human trafficking.
At the end of its report, the EIA offers helpful recommendations, including strengthening the agreement between the E.U. and Vietnam when it comes to imported timber.
If the E.U. can’t persuade Vietnam to change its ways, then it should cancel the agreement and stop importing Vietnamese timber and wood products altogether.
But given how many times Vietnam has failed to stop illegal logging, individual consumers and advocacy groups may want to take a more immediate stand: Don’t buy any wood products from Vietnam until they really change their errant and predatory ways.