The UK Government is being urged to act against Myanmar to stop illegal teak from entering the UK boatbuilding market

The UK Government is being urged to impose sanctions on Myanmar Timber Enterprises (MTE), the state-run regulator responsible for timber exports, to prevent illegal teak from entering the UK.

Myanmar teak is highly prized in the boat building industry.

The NGO Environment Investigation Agency (EIA) said since February’s military coup in Myanmar, stockpiles of teak had been auctioned off with the profits going to the military.

Wood is also being illegally transported across the border to China and sold on.

So far, only the USA has imposed sanctions.

In April, the German firm WOB Timber was fined €3.3 million and its director Stephan Bührich handed a 21-month suspended prison sentence and a fine of €200,000 after The Regional Court in Hamburg found WOB Timber had evaded the EU sanctions on 31 separate shipments of timber from 2008-11, when the previous military junta – the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) – was sanctioned by the EU.

Illegal teak being harvested in Myanmar

The EIA argues that it is almost impossible to prove teak from Myanmar is either sustainable or legally sourced. Credit: Getty

Many of the shipments involved illegal teak being processed in Taiwan and declared as originating in Taiwan rather than Myanmar.

The EIA exposed the role Taiwan played in supplying Myanmar teak to the international markets in its 2019 report State of Corruption.

Prior to Brexit, the UK complied with the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR), which came into force in 2013 to prohibit the sale of illegally harvested timber in Europe, and requires EU timber traders to exercise appropriate due diligence.

However, some countries such as Italy, Croatia and Sweden continue to import tropical sawnwood from Myanmar, allowing this wood to be exported to the rest of the EU.

The EUTR was replaced with the UK Timber Regulation on 1 January 2021.

UK timber suppliers now can’t source timber via a third party importer.

The EIA’s Forests Campaigner Alec Dawson, welcomed this change, saying it should result in a ‘big decline’ in the use of illegal teak from Myanmar in the UK, but there were concerns over ‘stockpiling by suppliers and once this runs out we could see a push to allow timber sourced from a third party.’

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He said the Northern Ireland protocol, which came into force after Brexit and means Northern Ireland follows EU rules governing trade, could result in ‘some game playing of the rules’ around third party importers once the stockpile runs out.

Dawson also wants action from the boatbuilding industry.

‘It is clear Myanmar teak is a problem and boatbuilders using it must be aware of the issues, but there has been minimal change in the industry,’ he said.

‘Myanmar teak might be the best for yacht building; the question is, what is the real price of using it?’

The Department for International Trade said the Government was committed ‘to tackling the trade in illegal timber’ and ‘exploring further sanctions to target the (Myanmar) military junta’s revenue streams.’

A spokesman confirmed that new due diligence checks won’t need to be carried out on timber that has been placed on the market in Northern Ireland under the EUTR and then moved to Great Britain, ‘in line with government policy on unfettered market access.’

British Marine said it supported Government measures which ensured imported timber met environmental and sustainability controls.

Its CEO, Lesley Robinson said boatbuilders were looking at the use of alternative wood such as lignia and Flexiteek, and further work would be started later this year through British Marine’s Environmental Roadmap.