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A workshop on exporting Burmese timber and other forest products to Western countries was held on 30 September at the Myanmar Timber Merchants Association office. The workshop was attended by timber merchant organisations from Britain, Denmark, USA, Australia and the Netherlands, as well as officials from Burma’s Forestry Department and related NGOs.
During the workshop, a joint working group was created, in part to ensure that forest products are exported in accordance with local and international law.
DVB’s Aye Nai interviewed Bar Bar Cho, joint secretary of the Myanmar Timber Merchants Association, about the workshop and how Burma’s new logging export ban will affects industry.
Q: What was the outcome of the meeting between the EU delegation and the Myanmar Timber Merchants Association on 1 October?
A: Actually, we met with three groups on 1 October: the EU delegation; an American group called the International Wood Product Association (IWAP); and the Australian Timber Importers Federation. They all wanted to learn about Burma’s forest product supply chain in a step-by-step manner. They also wanted to know about our standards and how our industry works. We all talked about how to cooperate in order to reach the higher standards of developing countries. We invited the foreign groups in order to establish a market for our products, learn how to enhance the value of our products, and give Burmese industry players a chance to express their ideas.
Q: What does the EU want to import? Do they want to invest in logging, timber or processed wood?
A: As you know, the export of logs has been prohibited. However, foreign buyers don’t mind whether they import timber or processed wood. According to many countries’ laws, imported forest products must be harvested in accordance with certain laws and standards. This is their main challenge, as they can only import forestry goods if there is a guarantee that the wood comes from forests that are “legal”. If no such guarantee exists, foreign buyers are in danger of breaking the laws of their own countries. This is why the foreigners came to meet with us, as they don’t want to break their own laws when importing Burmese forest products. It’s not their intention to establish wood processing operations or make other investments in Burma.”
Q: Do you expect that Burma’s timber or furniture businesses will benefit from the meeting?
A: For both furniture and wood, the main issue is whether the market is willing to accept the products. In some cases, even if there is market demand in a particular country there may be legal or political factors which limit our ability to trade with that country. Accordingly, our meeting was designed to find ways to implement responsible trade practices that would be acceptable to NGOs and foreign governments. We didn’t necessarily focus on the quality of the product itself.
Q: Could you say this meeting marks the initial opening of Burma’s timber industry after the EU and US relaxed their human rights-related sanctions against Burma?
A: Actually, the EU and US sanctions were lifted at different times. We have already been engaged with the EU for a period of time because the Europeans relaxed their sanctions earlier. But we’ve told the buyers that it’s inconvenient if they all come separately, as we have to keep answering the same questions when the Americans come, the Australians come, etc. So we organized this event in order to talk with everyone together and make sure we’re all on the same page. Many customers were invited to the meeting, and on our side we invited the relevant government departments.
Q: Could you talk about the outcome of the meeting and your hopes for the future of the industry?
A: I want people from other countries to remember this meeting and I want to see the industry develop. The participants said there should be a timeframe, so a proposal was put forward to form a working group or a task force. Since the participants agreed on this point we have formed a working group with representatives from the Myanmar Timber Merchant Association, NGOs and the government. The working group will be in touch with buyers and consider how our side should proceed and what the buyers can provide. We will also discuss what kind of technical support and capacity building they can give us, and the buyers will tell us more about these issues after returning home. The foreign attendees also told us to provide our time framework, and we agreed to work on this. Anyway, I think this meeting marks the beginning of Burma’s history as a responsible timber-trading country.