The Mirror of Manipur || Fast, Factual and Fearless.

Myanmar, India and smuggling of teak wood


United Kingdom-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) says that teak imports from India by EU and US have surged 15-fold. This increase comes despite existing sanctions imposed on a Myanmar based major player. A recent report by EIA also highlights concerns about the true origin of teak exports from India.

TFM Report

The smuggling of teak or more precisely Burmese teak wood (Tectona grandis) from Myanmar has become a significant issue, with reports of high-profile seizures and arrests across India. This has highlighted the scale and complexity of the problem in the East and Northeast India. Despite stringent sanctions imposed on Myanmar Timber Enterprise (MTE) by the European Union (EU) and the United States (US), the illicit trade in Burmese teak continues to flourish, facilitated by a network of smugglers and corrupt traders.

Several recent incidents underscore the severity of the situation. In a major operation, foresters from the Belakoba range under the Baikunthapur forest division seized a consignment of Burmese teak from Panikauri, located on NH27 in Jalpaiguri district in November, 2022. The timber, concealed under sacks of coal, was valued at around Rs 30 lakh. The truck driver and helper, both from Haryana, were arrested.

Similarly, the State Goods and Service Tax (SGST) department busted a smuggling racket, arresting Rahul Khan from Rajasthan in March, 2024. A container purportedly carrying tea leaves was found to contain 660 cubic feet of Burmese teak worth approximately Rs 15 lakh. This timber was being transported from Guwahati to Maharashtra.

In another significant operation in February, 2024, the Bagdogra forest department officials intercepted a container loaded with Burmese teak hidden among bamboo. The seizure, valued at Rs 30 lakh, took place near the Bengai Jote area of Naxalbari. The timber was being smuggled from Assam to Bihar.

In April 2024, security forces in Manipur, particularly the Assam Rifles, successfully thwarted several smuggling attempts near the Indo-Myanmar border. This operation in Kamjong district led to the arrest of seven suspected smugglers and the seizure of approximately 1,701 cubic feet of timber, valued at Rs 14.4 lakh on the gray market. The timber was reportedly being transported from Myanmar to Manipur through the border crossing at reefs, highlighting the ongoing challenges in curbing illegal activities in the region. The crackdown was conducted during a routine search by security forces near Jade Choro village.

This incident is part of a broader effort to combat timber smuggling in Manipur. Officials have confirmed that a total of 24,120 cubic feet of timber has been seized in Kamjong district since April 1, 2024.

In a related operation in March 2022, the Shangshak Battalion of the Assam Rifles intercepted cross-border smuggling of teak wood in Punamram, Kamjong. Troops seized teak wood worth Rs 22 crore and intercepted 30 trucks carrying the smuggled timber from Myanmar. Along with the trucks, 17 traffickers were apprehended. The seized teak wood, along with the apprehended smugglers and vehicles, was handed over to the Range Officer of the Forest Department in Kasom Khullen for further legal action.

The Broader Implications

These incidents reveal the extensive network of smuggling routes and the lengths to which traffickers go to conceal their illegal activities. From hiding timber under coal sacks and bamboo to using false documentation, smugglers employ sophisticated methods to evade detection. The involvement of individuals from various states, including Haryana, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh, highlights the widespread nature of this illegal trade. The continuous seizures and arrests reflect the ongoing efforts of law enforcement agencies to combat this menace. However, the persistence of smuggling activities indicates the need for more robust measures and international cooperation to curb the illegal trade of Burmese teak.

India-teak imports to the EU and US surges 15-fold

The United Kingdom-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) says that India-teak imports to the European Union (EU) and the United States (US) have surged 15-fold. This increase comes despite existing sanctions imposed by both the EU and US on the Myanmar Timber Enterprise (MTE), a major player in the global teak export market.

A recent report by EIA, authored by Forest Campaigner Kate Klikis and published on June 21, 2024, highlights concerns about the true origin of teak exports from India. The report notes that while India does have its own naturally-grown teak forests, the dramatic rise in exports coincides with the timing of sanctions against MTE.

“It is not possible to know if all exports of teak from India are actually Myanmar teak; India’s forests do contain naturally-grown teak. Nevertheless, this marked increase in exports from India is indicative of a shift in trade that coincidentally aligns with the timings of the implementation of sanctions against MTE,” the report states.

The EIA suspects that traders in the EU and US might be seeking alternative routes to acquire Burmese teak, possibly using falsified origin papers. Since India has not imposed sanctions against MTE, Indian traders can continue to purchase Burmese teak directly from MTE. However, EU and US timber importing laws require verification of teak origin. The EIA report emphasizes that without proper verification, it is unlikely that all teak exported from India is of Indian origin. The report calls for transparency from Indian traders regarding their timber sources.

The report quotes another Forest Campaign leader Faith Doherty stating, “Given the escalating violence and conflict within Myanmar, without the full implementation of sanctions and timber laws, what’s the point?”. It cautions that the international market must remain vigilant as we continue to see a direct flow of teak from Myanmar. The international community must do more to stop this trade. “Any information, including details obtained from within Myanmar, provided by EIA to law enforcement must be acted upon. The demand for this ‘blood timber’ remains high, especially for the elites refurbishing and buying yachts. These illegal actions are supporting an illegitimate regime and one of the most violent conflicts on Earth”, says the report.

According to  another report by Jason Ross for Wood Central, Australia’s first and only dedicated platform covering wood-based media across all digital platforms, three years after the EU sanctioned the sale of Myanmar teak, more than €3.8 million (Rs. 33,93,81,800.00 or Thirty-Three Crore Ninety-Three Lakh eighty-One Thousand Eight hundred) of teak was imported into the zone last year. Despite strict sanctions, millions of euros worth of timber continue to filter into Western supply chains via India and China.

This report also says that as per EIA had raised the alarm about Mynamar using India as a launching pad to sell into the EU and the US.  It comes after India’s trade in teak has increased 15-fold, from €500,000 (in 2021 to nearly €7.5 million in 2023—in the wake of the decision by the US (in April 2021) and then the EU (in June 2021) to sanction the state-owned MTE.

Under timber importing laws (including the soon-to-be-rolled-out EUDR), traders must verify the origin of the teak and demonstrate that it did not originate from Myanmar. “So, Indian traders must be transparent about where they source their timber,” the EIA said.

Italy emerges as EU’s Smuggling Hotspot for Burmese Teak

Wood Central report by Jason Ross also said that Italy is Europe’s ground zero for teak and other forest products. Between January and October 2023, Italian companies imported more Myanmar wood products than any other European country — at least US $3.3 million worth — used in furniture and construction, according to Italian government data analysed by the FederlegnoArredo – Italy’s national timber trade association.

According to Deforestation Inc., an investigation led by ICIJ, the EU and the US have failed to stop the trade in Myanmar timber, allowing the junta to keep its tight grip over the country. FederlegnoArredo’s data found that European companies imported more than US $6 million worth of wood products from Myanmar. Yadanar Maung, a Justice for Myanmar spokesperson, said that “far more needs to be done.”

“It’s unacceptable that Myanmar teak imports to the US and EU are happening at all” three years after the coup, Mr Maung told ICIJ, adding that “the sale of teak helps the junta pay for the bombs and jet fuel it needs to slaughter Myanmar people. No yacht is worth the price of blood Myanmar people are sacrificing for this abhorrent trade,” he said.

Smuggling of Burmese teak remains a pressing issue

The illegal trade and smuggling of Burmese teak remains a pressing issue, driven by high demand and the allure of significant profits. Despite sanctions and stringent laws, smuggling networks continue to find ways to transport teak across borders. The seizures and arrests in India in recent times are a testament to the dedication of law enforcement agencies, yet they also underscore the need for enhanced vigilance and cooperation at both national and international levels. Addressing this issue requires a multifaceted approach, including stricter enforcement, transparency in trade practices, and greater awareness of the environmental impact of illegal logging and smuggling. It also important to note that most of the international reports have indicted the military junta in Myanmar. What about the many Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) in Myanmar that have launched a massive resistance movement against the military leadership?

There are reports that EAOs and militias in Myanmar have also been implicated in teak smuggling. These groups control various regions where teak is harvested and have reportedly been involved in the illegal timber trade to finance their operations. The lucrative nature of the teak trade provides these groups with necessary funds, thus intertwining the resistance efforts with illegal activities like timber smuggling.

Environmental activists have reported an increasing number of timber-laden trucks passing through Hkamti, a densely forested area in the northwest between India’s border and Kachin State, heading towards Shan State in the north. This region serves as a key transit hub for the timber trade, with final destinations in Nongdao and Ruili in China’s Yunnan Province. However, one should also note that the current strife in Hkamti region reflects the broader instability in Myanmar, where both military actions and resistance movements continue to destabilize the region, impacting civilians and complicating efforts for humanitarian relief and environmental conservation. It has been reported that China and India are the primary importers of Myanmar’s wood, accounting for nearly half of the country’s timber trade. The entity responsible for regulating Myanmar’s wood harvesting and sales has been sanctioned by the US and EU. Key players in this market include Myanmar’s military, local business-people, Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) and militias, as well as actors based in China. Efforts to curb the illegal teak trade face challenges due to the complex and secretive nature of the transactions, the involvement of multiple intermediaries, and the global financial networks that enable these illegal activities.


You might also like
Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.