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Italy flouts EU sanctions to trade in Myanmar's illegal timber

EU and US sanctions target the timber and natural resources sector to choke off funds for the junta

UCA News reporter

UCA News reporter

Published: September 01, 2021 03:51 AM GMT

Updated: September 06, 2021 08:15 AM GMT

Italy flouts EU sanctions to trade in Myanmar's illegal timber

A cargo truck transports timber logs in Myanmar's commercial capital Yangon in September 2016. (Photo: AFP)

Italy is at the heart of the illicit trade of timber from Myanmar in defiance of European Union trade rules and sanctions imposed since the military coup in the Southeast Asian country in February, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) said on Sept. 1.

In a new report, "The Italian Job: How Myanmar timber is trafficked through Italy to the rest of Europe despite EU laws," the London-based EIA said it had found 27 Italian traders importing teak timber products.

“The findings from our 18-month investigation raise very grave questions as to how Italian and, more widely, European Union authorities have allowed this trade to continue virtually unchallenged on their watch,” said Faith Doherty, the EIA’s forests campaigns leader.

She said the illicit trade documented in the report has continued since the coup. Data showed some Italian traders imported about US$1.4 million worth of wood products from Myanmar during March, April and May this year.

The report also found that, when asked, none of the Italian companies were prepared to confirm that they had any intention to stop imports.

In contrast, imports of Myanmar timber to many other EU member states have declined in response to the due diligence requirements of the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) and related enforcement actions in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands.

The EU member states, and in particular Italy, need to stop turning their backs on the people of Myanmar, get serious and put a stop to this shameful situation

 “Various rulings have made it perfectly clear that it is impossible to import teak and other timbers from Myanmar and remain in compliance with the EUTR, even before sanctions directly targeting the exploitation of Myanmar’s natural resources were put in place earlier this year to reinforce the prohibition — and yet here we are,” Doherty said.

She said there had been a call from the people of Myanmar to assist in preventing the flow of funds that support the military coup and so sanctions have been placed on the Myanmar timber enterprise and the military business entities that support the junta.

However, the trade has only continued to grow despite heightened scrutiny on the legal problems with Myanmar timber. “Only derisory, minimal fines have ever been imposed and the companies have continued to trade despite findings that they are breaching the law,” Doherty said.

This includes the Italian company F.LLI Budai, which was found to be importing Myanmar teak in contravention of the EUTR while also receiving development funding from the EU.

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The EU and the United States initiated sanctions against the military and self-anointed Prime Minister Min Aung Hlaing almost immediately after the coup that ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Since then more than 1,000 people have been killed in Myanmar while demonstrating against the military regime. Thousands of others have been detained.

“The EU member states, and in particular Italy, need to stop turning their backs on the people of Myanmar, get serious and put a stop to this shameful situation,” Doherty said.

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