Saturday, September 06, 2008

Stall timber talks, NGO tells EU

Tony Thien Sep 5, 08 1:53pm

The Bruno Manser Fund (BMF) is asking the European Union (EU) to stall its timber talks with Malaysia until the new allegation of Indonesian timber being smuggled via Sarawak is clarified.

“It is obvious that Malaysia is currently unable to fulfill the requirements of a voluntary partnership agreement with the EU because of widespread corruption at the government level, particularly in the timber-rich state of Sarawak,” the Basel/Switzerland-based NGO said in an emailed statement to Malaysiakini.

According to BMF, a top Sarawak leader is involved in a timber trade scam involving illegal imports of Indonesian logs and its re-export to third countries, including China, Taiwan and Japan.

The Swiss group - predominately involved in advocacy for peoples of the world’s rainforest -quoted a report in Tribun Pontianak, an Indonesian daily, that 30 shipments of illegal logs worth approximately US$220,000 were taken out from West Kalimantan by land or sea into Sarawak.

Also reported was the arrests of a forest controller and several other individuals - charged for complicity. Further, a top Sarawak leader as well as Hardwood Sdn Bhd - which belongs to a Sarawak state agency - have been implicated in the matter.

The Sarawak government so far has refrained from commenting.

EU ambassador to Malaysia Vincent Piket - while heading the EU delegation in Kuching - said that the timber trade agreement with Malaysia will be concluded by year-end, according to The Borneo Post.

“We are in the final phase of talks where we are looking at the mechanism whereby Malaysia certifies and authorises the export of timber,” he was quoted as saying.

He added: “ We are trying to see how Malaysia determines a log or piece of furniture to meet the legality condition and that is an important aspect, and once we have an agreement on that assessment mechanism, it means that we, as EU, can authorise without further legality tests or certification of timber coming from this country into the EU.”

NGOs dismayed

Meanwhile, BMF director Dr Lukas Straumann responding to Malaysiakini’s query said that he was worried about the news of the agreement concluding so quickly after the discovery in West Kalimantan.

“We are currently consulting with other NGOs to send a letter to the European Commission,” he said, adding that Malaysian-based NGOs are also unhappy with what is transpiring.

According to him, a Malaysian NGO walked out of the pro forma consultations in Kuala Lumpur a few months ago because none of their issues were given serious consideration.

Lukas said the main concern is that the Sarawak government will struggle to meet the legal parts of the timber agreement, due mainly to corruption.

“Any illegal activities related to timber trade from government actors can’t be tolerated if the EU is to conclude a voluntary partnership agreement with Malaysia,” the BMF director added.

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