Allegations of a de facto “mini-Vietnam” logging territory set up in Laos to mow down its protected jungles are untrue, according to Vietnam’s government.
Vietnam is slamming a report by the Environmental Investigation Agency, a U.K. watchdog group, that claims rampant bribery, timber smuggling and military collusion in Vietnam’s booming furniture industry, now powered by sales to the U.S., Europe and China.
Global Post’s own report on the alleged illegal logging, which cites the watchdog report, is here. At the time, Vietnam’s government assured Global Post and other outlets that “there is no smuggling of timber from Laos by the Vietnamese military” but did not elaborate.
Now, Vietnam has a fuller explanation: it’s legally allowed to “exploit some areas as well as log land that was cleared to construct infrastructure,” presumably one of Laos’ many foreign-funded hydro-power projects that require massive land clearing.
Still, Laos’ prohibition on timber exports is meant to let impoverished Lao people turn those sawn logs into a retail-ready product: deck chairs, flooring, etc. They desperately need the jobs. If the trees have to go down, why can’t Lao citizens at least get first dibs on their own country’s logged jungles?
The government explanation also can’t fully explain logging on the scale described by the report, which can be found here. In fairness, it states that only a small portion, perhaps 15 percent, of of illegal timber feed Vietnam’s furniture industry. So don’t go torching your new “Made in Vietnam” coffee table, especially if you bought it at a large retailer with a vetted supply line.
Still, Vietnam’s government insists the report is misinformed, exaggerated and tainted by reserachers’ decision to go undercover. Indeed, undercover investigations should be a tactic of last resort. That said, Vietnam’s government is not at all transparent and unfettered investigations into its budgets and activities is practically impossible.
Just what does Laos have to say about allegations that its provincial officials are receiving kickbacks to let in Vietnamese logging syndicates?
So far — and providing we haven’t missed anything — the government has been silent.
For the record, we phoned a Laos Foreign Ministry official, who declined an interview but agreed to e-mail a statement on the allegations. It never arrived.
HA NOI — Viet Nam authorities have rejected claims from the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) that Vietnamese companies illegally purchase timber from Laos.
In its Commerce Interchange report, the EIA affirmed that Vietnamese timber companies like Zone 4 Military Technique Co-operation Company, Duc Long, Thanh Thuy, Khanh Thinh, Hoang Phat and Da Nang Vinafor, illegally imported wood from Laos to Vietnamese factories.
It is the second report the EIA has published on the illegal timber trade between Viet Nam, Laos and Cambodia.
Viet Nam Timber and Forest Products Association vice-chairman and general secretary Nguyen Ton Quyen said Laotian and Vietnamese customs officers strictly checked timber and followed rules regarding timber export and import activities.
In a press conference held yesterday in Ha Noi Quyen said the Laos government permited Vietnamese companies to exploit some areas as well as log land that was cleared to construct infrastructure, adding that companies were licensed to export timber which was used for commercial purpose by Lao authorities.
The companies comprehensively fulfilled the financial and tax obligations in accordance with Laos law.
Chairman of the association Tran Duc Sinh said that the association had confronted the European Environment Agency which funded the EIA investigation.
Sinh said the EIA’s conclusion was not supported by the European Environment Agency (EEA) because the investigation was not transparently carried out, adding that the EIA’s report did not give specific figures.
“The EIA used outdated information three years ago and the investigation was based on unofficial interviews,” he said.
The EIA staff were disguised as customers when interviewing these companies with hidden tape recorders – the Vietnamese staff did not know who they worked with, Sinh said.
“It is not a comprehensive investigation and comments in the report are not objective,” he said.
“Accusations which are apparently aimed at negatively impacting the Vietnamese timber sector could come from countries competing with Viet Nam,” Sinh said.
Deputy head of the Viet Nam Administration of Forestry’s International Co-operation Department Nguyen Tuong Van, said EEA representatives recently visited Viet Nam and already voiced concerns about EIA investigation methods.
The EEA has not responded to the report, Van added.
Between 200,000 – 250,000 cubic metres of timber out of 4 million were imported into Viet Nam each year come from Laos, which were used for the domestic market, Quyen said.
Quyen said that wooden products from Viet Nam that had been exported to markets in the EU, the US and Japan were not made from timber imported from Laos due to high prices and unsuitable production technology.
In recent years, such products exported to the EU were made by imported timber sources with the Forest Steward Council’s certification.
Last year, Vietnamese wood furniture exports to the EU and the US reached US$1.4 billion of which $1 billion was solely to the US.
Viet Nam’s wood furniture exports to the US have reached US$900 million in the first eight months of 2011 and Vietnamese companies have not felt any impact of the report from the US or EU, Quyen said.
In recent years, the EU has supported Viet Nam’s timber processing industry and helped the industry to produce products to international standards, Quyen said.
In line with the FOB rules, Vietnamese companies have been responsible for transporting commodities to the port, he added.
The EU and the US have representative offices in Viet Nam and tightly control licensing import certification, and these accusations won’t impact Vietnamese wood furniture exports to the EU, Quyen said. — VNS
Monsters and Critics.com
Sep 1, 2011, 3:42 GMT
Hanoi – Vietnamese authorities on Thursday said an environmental group that accused the country of illegal timber smuggling from Laos may be under pressure to damage the country’s reputation in the industry.
‘All timber imported from Laos is approved by the Lao central government and is closely monitored by local authorities in Laos,’ said Nguyen Ton Quyen, general secretary of Vietnam Timber and Forest Product Association.
His comments came a month after a report published by London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) said Vietnam had illegally harvested wood from Laos for the last three years, despite ongoing talks between Vietnam and the European Union.
‘This is not the first time EIA has released such a report,’ Quyen said. ‘They may be under pressure from some countries or organizations who want to blacken and downgrade the prestige of Vietnam’s timber export industry.’
The EIA report found that the Vietnamese Company of Economic Cooperation, which is owned by the military, was one of the biggest illegal loggers currently operating in Laos.
A similar report in 2008 prompted the EU to initiate talks with Vietnam on how to verify the origin of wood products destined for the EU market, but the group said little had been done to stop the trade.
Vietnam currently exports an estimated 4 billion dollars’ worth of wood products, with about 15 per cent going to the EU. Vietnam closed its own forests for logging in 1997.
See Reported from the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and some related:
- VIETNAMESE ARMY NAMED AS TIMBER SMUGGLER
- Lao forests feeding Vietnam industry – reports
- Environmental group says illegal log trafficking to Vietnam destroying rich forests of Laos
- Revealed: how the Vietnamese military fuels destruction of Laos’ forests
- Group Links Vietnam Military to Illegal Logging in Laos
- Illegal logging: from the rainforest to your dining room “Made in Vietnam”