Press Release / Sept. 10, 2004

EU must act on Burma forest crisis

For Immediate Release, 10 September 2004

EU foreign ministers have in a recent statement on the EU’s relations with Burma, for the first time ever, recognised the devastation caused by the illegal and uncontrolled logging of pristine forests in Burma, which are amongst the most biodiverse in the world.

Global Witness (1) welcomes this statement, which puts forestry issues at the top of the EU agenda for Burma for the first time, but it needs to be turned into immediate and effective action.

As highlighted by the recent Global Witness report ‘A Conflict of Interests: The uncertain future of Burma’s forests’, the timber trade in Burma is unregulated, highly destructive of the environment and intertwined with corruption, illegality, and armed conflict.

The critical watershed of the Irrawaddy River is threatened by logging in the N’Mai Hku area while unrecorded exports in excess of one million cubic metres, worth approximately US$ 250 million, strongly suggest that the regime has lost control of its forest sector.

The EU foreign ministers have now recognised the urgency of this problem. Dutch Foreign Minister Bernard Bot, speaking on behalf of the 25 member states after their recent meeting on the situation in Burma, called on the EU Commission “to produce specific proposals to address the issue of illegal logging, including opportunities for decreasing deforestation in, and export of, teak from Burma”.

The EU countries now need to take rapid and decisive steps to address the endemic lack of accountability, transparency and sustainability of the Burmese timber industry.

The first priority is for Europe to lead on multilateral action to prevent predatory and illicit timber extraction in Burma. Secondly the EU needs to address the role of China in the Burmese timber industry in its discussions at the highest level with Chinese officials.
Thirdly, the EU must increase its provision of support to Burmese civil society and ceasefire areas.

This statement by the EU foreign ministers is a sign that the EU is beginning to grasp the scale of the forestry problem in Burma. “The EU must take the necessary measures to ensure that the Burmese regime and its neighbours understand the severity of this issue, and stop the destructive logging,” says Simon Taylor, Director of Global Witness. “Otherwise one of Burma’s most precious resources will be squandered, instead of being used to fund reconstruction and reconciliation in the country.”

Global Witness’ investigations reveal that China is the lead importer of timber from Burma which amounts to more than one million cubic metres a year at a value of around US$ 250 million.

The Global Witness report, ‘A Conflict of Interest: The uncertain future of Burma’s forests’ has just been translated into Burmese for circulation within Burma, whose citizens have, for the first time, access to information about the true state of their country’s forests.

It is available in Burmese and in English at:
For a hard copy version please respond to via email with name and address

For further information, contact Global Witness’ Burma team on +44 207 561 6368 - or [email protected]

Editor’s notes:

(1) Global Witness focuses on the links between the exploitation of natural resources and the funding of conflict and corruption. It is non-partisan in all its countries of operation. Global Witness has been co-nominated for the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize for its leading work on ‘conflict diamonds’.

Global Witness, P.O. Box 6042, London N19 5WP.
Tel: 00 (44) 207 272 6731. Fax: 00 (44) 207 272 9425.