International environmental groups recently disclosed that almost half a million cubic meters of timber illegally cut down and exported from Laos go to feed Vietnam’s booming furniture industry.
Mr. Julian Newman of the UK-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) told VOA on March 27 by telephone from Indonesia, where he is on temporary duty that, every year, at least an estimated 450,000 cubic meters of Lao timber is illegally cut down and smuggled across the border into Vietnam.
Mr. Newman said Vietnam's booming economy and demand for cheap furniture in the west is driving the rapid deforestation in Laos, and he also blamed this on corrupted local officals in Laos.
A report released on March 19, 2008, is the result of a series of undercovered investigations by the EIA and Telapak (an Indonesian NGO) in 2007. Posing as timber traders and furniture buyers, investigators gained access to wood processing factories across Vietnam and gathered evidence of frequent use of logs from Laos, imported into Vientam despite a log export ban in Laos.
Mr. Newman said that in one afternoon at Na-Phao border crossing, a fleet of 45 trucks laden with logs and timbers from Laos crossed the border into Vietnam.
A report noted that in 1990s, Vietnam took steps to conserve its own forests while at the same time expanding furniture production, much of it with illegal timber. Last year Vietnam's furniture exports totaled 2.4 billion dollars, an increase of 10-folds from the year 2000. According to the report, 39% of the exports go to the US, 14% to Japan, 7% to UK, 4% to Germany and 4% to France.
According to the Lao government, in 1940 forest cover in Laos was 70%, covering 17 million hectares. That area has now dropped to around 40%. The ministry of Agriculture and Forestry of Laos said the size of the forests had declined by 1.4 million hectares from 1992 to 2002, one of the largest declines in Laos history.
Mr. Newman said to stop illicit trade of timber from Laos, the west should stop buying furnitures made from illegal timber from Laos. He also called on the Lao government to implement Lao forestry law of 1996 and set the roles and responsibilities of various government agencies involved in forest management.
Listen to our report for details in Lao.