The Environmental Investigation Agency has named US timber traders importing teak from Myanmar, breaking sanctions

Thousands of tonnes of ‘blood teak’ have been imported from Myanmar into the United States in the past two years in defiance of US sanctions, the watchdog Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) said in a report, naming several of the American timber companies.

Teak is prized for its water-resistant properties and is often used for decking on yachts, as well as furniture and flooring. Concerns about deforestation in Myanmar, one of the world’s largest producers of teak, led to import bans by many countries in the early 2000s and the report warns the country’s forests will disappear by 2035 if deforestation continues at its current rate.

After the military violently overthrew the democratic Myanmar (formerly Burma) government in February 2021, the UK, EU, US, Canada and Switzerland imposed financial sanctions in April 2021 on the regime and the state-owned Myanmar Timber Enterprise (MTE). The MTE has the exclusive right to harvest and sell timber for export, with funds going to the military regime.

‘The US sanctioned the state-owned Myanmar Timber Enterprise on April 21, 2021 under Executive Order 14014, but two years on 2,760.46 tonnes of the timber have nevertheless been imported into America in direct defiance of sanctions,’ the London-based EIA said in its report Acts of Defiance II.

The report named the US companies and the volume of teak imported. The top three were: East Teak Fine Hardwoods Inc (importing 1,285.35 tonnes), J. Gibson McIlvain Co Inc (1,148.12 tonnes) and Florida Teak (importing as Global Dynamic Capital LLC – 151.85 tonnes). The report also named five other US companies but with smaller import volumes.

Florida Teak denied it had broken sanctions, telling Yachting Monthly  it complies fully with US Treasury Department requirements. ‘Florida Teak has not imported teak nor will from Burma since last year and when it did previously, Florida Teak only purchased teak harvested and sold by MTE prior to April 21, 2021. Florida Teak worked with its suppliers to verify the legality of the teak to be purchased and also used verification firms DoubleHelix and SGS to verify the key facts surrounding sanctions compliance.’

Yachting Monthly also contacted the other companies for comment, but they have not responded.

Teak deforestation has been a real cause for concern for many years

‘Since April 2021, East Teak Fine Hardwoods and J. Gibson McIlvain Co Inc have effectively created a duopoly for Myanmar teak imports into the US, with a combined percentage of more than 88% for total imports,’ the report said.

‘For the 2022 period alone, during which MTE was holding monthly auctions, data from UN Comtrade reports that $13.2 million worth of Myanmar teak was imported into the US in direct defiance of sanctions,’ the report said.

EIA Forests Campaign Leader Faith Doherty called on the US government to act. ‘The US Government needs to show political will and leverage its resources to enforce sanctions and the US Lacey Act 2008 to stop the trade in illicit timber and profits supporting the criminal, brutal Myanmar regime and its cronies.’

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‘It’s no secret what’s happening and it’s not complicated – but without action, it’s no wonder US-based traders blithely continue to import Myanmar’s blood teak when they know there will be no consequences for them. That is not acceptable,” she said.

Under EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) the import of all Myanmar teak is effectively illegal, as you must prove the timber has been legally harvested. The EIA argues that Myanmar teak imports are also illegal in the US under the Lacey Act 2008, which bans imports of goods in violation of any foreign law protecting or regulating plant species. ‘It is crucial that the US authorities mirror the position of the EU for teak imports into the US,’ the report said.

EIA investigators reported that many of the US timber importers were seeking to circumvent the law by using the ‘stockpile narrative’, in which they claim their teak was purchased from Myanmar stockpiles and paid for before sanctions were imposed in April 2021. EIA opposes this narrative, it said, noting that the risk of mixing illegally harvested timber with potentially legally harvested pre-coup timber is ‘extremely high’.

A teak plantation. Photo: Agus Prianto / Alamy Stock Photo

The teak is not typically shipped directly to the US from Myanmar. Instead, containers of teak are placed onto smaller feeder vessels in the Myanmar port of Yangon, which then transport the timber to larger ships bound for the US.

Since the 2021 coup, the Myanmar military government has imposed a State of Emergency, including widespread Martial Law, and intensified the use of violence against the people in a bid to maintain power. There are now 17.6 million people in need of humanitarian assistance and more than 1.6 million have been displaced, according to the United Nations.

The EIA, based in London and Washington, campaigns against abuse of the environment and works to safeguard eco systems and reduce the impact of climate change. The report was compiled with financial assistance from the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad).

The EIA has been in contact with the US Department of State and enforcement agencies.

The EIA said the companies had been contacted for comment but only Florida Teak responded, denying it had breached any laws.

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