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US Department of Justice has announced new interagency task force Promote efforts to identify, investigate and prosecute illegal timber trafficking related to environmental and other crimes.

The working group, called TIMBER (Timber Interdiction Membership Board and Enforcement Resources), brings together several government departments – Justice, Agriculture, Interior and Homeland Security – and the Strategic Division of the US Council on Transnational Organized Crime. According to US officials, it aims to combat deforestation and disrupt illegal timber smuggling through global supply chains, partly by strengthening cooperation between the US and foreign governments.

Todd Kim of the DOJ’s Environment and Natural Resources Division said at the working group’s inaugural meeting in April, “The working group will focus on finding and prosecuting violators, increasing the capacity of counterpart governments, and removing barriers to successful enforcement.” Will focus.”

Illegal logging and its associated trade not only accelerate climate change and biodiversity loss, Kim and others said, but also deepen political instability, distort the timber economy, and finance terrorism and civil conflict. Is.

the announcement Thus March publication of Deforestation Inc. A cross-border investigation led by ICIJ and 39 media partners How leading certification firms validate products linked to deforestation, logging in conflict zones and other abuses.

During the round table meeting of the task forceMarigold Norman of World Forest ID, an environmental non-profit, cited reporting by ICIJ partner miami heraldwho revealed how myanmar teak — a dense, weather-resistant wood prized by makers of luxury yachts and high-end furniture around the world — continued to be imported into the US despite sanctions imposed on the country’s state-run lumber company, Myanmar Timber Enterprise.

Following the military coup that overthrew Myanmar’s democratically elected civilian government in 2021, the US, EU, UK, Canada and others ratified the MTE. And yet, as ICIJ and its partners showed this year, timber from Myanmar continues to enter a variety of markets, highlighting the challenges of enforcing international environmental laws.

A new report published last week by the Environmental Investigation Agency, a UK-based environmental watchdog group, revealed that more than 3,000 tonnes of Myanmar timber have been imported into the US over the past two years. The EIA estimates that if deforestation in Myanmar continues at its current rate, the country’s forests will disappear by 2035. In addition to their environmental impacts, timber exports are also an important source of revenue for Myanmar’s military regime.

Under the LESSE Act of 2008, U.S. merchants are required to ensure the harvesting and transportation of imported lumber is in compliance with the laws of the lumber’s country of origin. But, as the EIA report outlined, at least a dozen American companies imported banned lumber after the coup; Many claimed that it had been stored prior to the crisis, Relying on questionable sustainability certificates by third party auditors,

“There is no way to import [Myanmar] “Teak currently in the US without violating restrictions,” said Kate Klickis, a forest campaigner for the EIA.

no way to import [Myanmar] currently bring teak lumber into the US without violating sanctions.”

– Kate Klickis, EIA Forest Publicist

She noted that a similar EU law, the EU Timber Regulation, has been able to be more strictly enforced because it explicitly bans all timber imports from Myanmar because of possible ties to the junta.

“People often overlook these actions by US traders, which have real-life consequences for people in Myanmar,” said Thomas Chung, a senior forest campaigner at EIA. “It is not just cutting down trees and destroying the ecosystem… The money that these people voluntarily send to Myanmar is filling the coffers of the military junta, [which is] All these atrocities are being perpetrated in the ongoing civil war against the people of Myanmar. It should not be forgotten.

While the EU may have been more effective than the US in stopping the flow of Myanmar teak, the so-called “king of the jungles” was still imported into many European countries since the sanctions came into force.

during a virtual meeting of European Commission’s expert group on the protection and restoration of forests A representative of the United Nations Environment Program World Conservation Monitoring Center on 4 May submitted data Showing that 13 EU member states imported Myanmar wood products, most likely teak, last year. According to Eurostat, Italy, France, Poland and Spain top the list with imports estimated to be worth more than $20 million from March 2022.

Liz Womack, a senior technical official at the UN agency, noted in an email that EU imports of Myanmar timber have decreased overall and are showing a downward trend since the ban came into effect in June 2021. although the data for 2022 is incomplete.

Womack said 16 EU member states reported importing $1 million worth of banned wood products from Russia and Belarus between August 2022 and January 2023, which are subject to sanctions from June and July 2022, respectively.

While the Eurostat data gives an insight into trading patterns, it stressed that it is based on trade conducted between two trading partners, so does not disclose the countries of origin of products or account for products from Myanmar, Russia or Belarus. Who can enter the European Union indirectly. third country.

The EU’s timber regulation will soon be replaced by stricter rules aimed only at “free from deforestation“Wood products can enter and exit the EU, and it is essential that all traded products meet strict sustainability standards.

After calling on the US to follow the EU’s lead, the EIA welcomed the new TIMBER working group as a step in the right direction.

“Now, it’s all about coordination between the various US officials,” Chung said. “And what we really need to see is enforcement, enforcement, enforcement.”

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