A worker amid a pile of logs at a holding area along the Yangon river in Yangon on July 23, 2015. Photo:  AFP PHOTO /  Ye Aung THU
A worker amid a pile of logs at a holding area along the Yangon river in Yangon on July 23, 2015. Photo: Photo: AFP/ Ye Aung Thu

As Myanmar has announced plans to restructure the government-run entity Myanmar Timber Enterprise, or MTE, under private sector management, reports of illegal logging are surging, according to Mongabay, a US-based website that publishes news on the environment.

Until now, MTE has been managing forestry resources and overseeing the export of timber and timber products while huge amounts of money have been paid to Myanmar officials on the border with China to turn a blind eye to illegally felled logs. Malaysia and Thailand are other countries that legally and otherwise import timber from Myanmar.

It is unclear what the new restructuring will mean other than that the MTE will “operate under a commercial model.”  MTE is among the state-owned enterprises that make the most revenue for the country, and so it is, again, unclear how the restructuring will make it more effective, or whether it will have any impact on illegal logging and smuggling.

Myanmar possesses the largest expanse of tropical forest in mainland Southeast Asia, but lost 19 per cent of its forest land – 7,445,000 hectares, – between 1990 and 2010. More recent figures indicate that the loss of intact forest cover has accelerated since then, even after a one-year logging ban was introduced for 2016-2017.

Due to its long political and economic isolation, Myanmar retained much of its original forest cover but political and economic changes have led to increased exports as well as smuggling. China’s rapid economic development in recent decades has also led to a rising demand for forestry products.

Officially, raw logs cannot be exported from Myanmar but “institutional corruption on a huge scale” has made such bans ineffective, according to the UK-based Environmental Investigation Agency.

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