Italian companies are flouting European Union Trade Regulations (EUTRs) by continuing to buy illicit timber from Myanmar, and are on-selling it to EU countries that have adhered to sanctions imposed following the February coup d’etat, an environmental watchdog has found.
An 18-month investigation by the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) identified 27 Italian timber traders that have been importing teak timber products.
Among them was F.LLI Budai, a company that specializes in high quality timbers from around the world, including, according to its website,“Asian essences” – mahogany meranti, yellow balau, and teak – sourced from Southeast Asia.
Teak, it says, “is now used not only for decoration but also for the realizations of the external coatings of ships and boats.”
According to the EIA report, entitled “The Italian Job: How Myanmar timber is trafficked through Italy to the rest of Europe despite EU laws,” Budai was importing Myanmar teak in contravention of EUTR laws while at the same time receiving development funding from the EU.
“There has been a call from the people of Myanmar to assist in preventing the flow of funds that support the military coup,” said EIA Forests Campaigns Leader Faith Doherty.
“Sanctions have been placed on the Myanmar Timber Enterprise and the military business entities that support the junta,” she added. “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.”
The report also found some timber imports from Myanmar to EU member states such as Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands had declined in response to EUTR due diligence requirements and related enforcement actions in response to the coup and the violence that followed.
Deaths among protestors opposed to the seizing of power by the military have surpassed 1,000 amid allegations of rape and torture, while thousands more have been detained.
The EU along with other Western nations imposed sanctions following the coup, including asset freezes and travel bans imposed on 43 individuals and six entities that are either state-owned or controlled by the Myanmar armed forces.
Among them are senior leaders in Myanmar who are also being investigated by the United Nations for the ethnic cleansing of more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims in 2017. Most fled to Bangladesh where about 890,000 Rohingya refugees have now found shelter in Cox’s Bazar.
They include Commander-in-Chief Sen. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, Deputy Commander-in-Chief Vice Sen. Gen. Soe Win, Brig. Gen. Than Oo and Brig. Gen. Aung Aung. Min Aung Hlaing has since declared himself prime minister.
“By targeting the gems and timber sectors, these measures are aimed at restricting the junta’s ability to profit from Myanmar’s natural resources, while being crafted so as to avoid undue harm to the people of Myanmar,” the EU said in June.
However, Doherty said only derisory, minimal fines have ever been imposed and companies had continued to trade despite rulings that made it perfectly clear that it is impossible to import teak and other timbers from Myanmar and remain in compliance with EUTR.
Illicit trade documented in “The Italian Job” since the February coup ousted an elected government showed Italian traders imported $1.4-$1.6 million worth of wood products from Myanmar during March, April, and May of this year.
The report also noted that Italy has a long history of trade with Myanmar and that some traders, in correspondence with EIA investigators, said they were unable to comply with the EUTR as they could not ensure the timber they imported was from legal sources.
“By continuing the trade, these companies are effectively supporting the military junta and its brutal repression of the Myanmar people as well as the destruction of the country’s forests,” Doherty said.