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Report brings Myanmar private forest and timber sector needs into focus

A major report has been completed into the business, market and environmental policy development needs of Myanmar’s private forest and timber sector as it increasingly engages with the international market and its legality and sustainability requirements.

The 33-page analysis has been undertaken by the 1000-member Myanmar Forest Products Merchants Federation (MFPMF), with input, support and guidance from the Global Timber Forum (GTF).

A core focus of the report is gearing the private sector to adapt to the legality assurance requirements of an EU Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade Voluntary Partnership Agreement (FLEGT VPA). This follows the Myanmar government’s indication of its intention to pursue a VPA and launch of a FLEGT Task Force.  In fact the report is titled “Identifying needs to improve private sector engagement in the EU FLEGT VPA process”.

But the MFPMF project – which was developed with the GTF and involved a comprehensive industry survey – also takes a wider perspective. It asks how the private sector should develop as its marketplace evolves and companies look to capitalise on such initiatives as the government’s National Forest Products Export Strategy, which targets value-added business.

It examines the organisation levels and cohesion of the private sector, and other key factors for its future including working with community forestry, which government  aims to develop.

“The objective is to understand better how different private sector operators interrelate,” states the report. “We aim to identify specific issues and priorities to enable them to collaborate and communicate more effectively in order to address domestic and international requirements.”

The MFPMF based its findings on in-depth interviews with timber operators, across the sector, not just its members. It also organised workshops and focus groups to gauge opinions and needs.

Key findings included that:

•    96% of [survey] respondents link deforestation with illegal logging
•    73% think timber from Myanmar Timber Enterprise (MTE) is legal
•    65% think wood from sources other than MTE is illegal.
•    46% claim they know about the Myanmar-EU FLEGT process, but there is little understanding of the process itself or its advantages
•    most don’t have  access to FLEGT VPA information
•    understanding of  the term ‘legal timber’ is also limited
•    business concerns include raw material supply reliability
•    overall the private sector lacks a culture of working together

Recommendations are that the MFPMF and its private sector network focus on:

•    an EU-Myanmar FLEGT VPA process information, education and communication strategy
•    development of a FLEGT VPA stakeholder engagement plan
•    capacity building for FLEGT VPA process participation
•    liaison with ‘missing’ private sector stakeholders
•    continued support for the FLEGT VPA process, working together with international trade partners through the GTF and other donors

Dr Sein Win, Chairman of MFPMF and part of the report advisory team, said his organisation would act on its findings.

“We plan to take account of its recommendations to address industry information requirements and to ensure all private sector actors work together to achieve the desired results,” he said.

This, he added, could help the sector tackle challenges it faces in a range of areas, including, fundamentally, working with neighbouring countries to end high levels of illegal logging.

“The Myanmar industry also faces increasing administrative complexity which hampers export potential  – we must be an attractive prospect for foreign timber buyers and investors,” said Dr Win ” Together, we must also address such issues as inconsistent raw material and power supply.”

Responding to the report Cindy Squires, GTF Board Member and Executive Director of International Wood Products Association in the USA, commented: “Worldwide the private sector timber business is dominated by small to medium sized enterprises.  So it’s important for  the industry in Myanmar, and  globally to work together, embracing such processes as FLEGT. It will build capacity to achieve a successful, sustainable international timber trade.”

Another advisory team member was U Barber Cho, Secretary of the Myanmar Forest Certification Council (MFCC). He also stressed the importance of the Report’s cross-industry perspective; setting private business in the context of a wider sector with community forestry. In fact, the project included a private sector visit to community forest operations.

“Linking the Myanmar government’s ambitious community forestry target to the commercial sector will benefit both,” he said. “We want to implement sustainable forest management and our industry is clear that we focus on one brand, one standard.”

A copy of the report is here

For more information contact the MFPMF at: mfpmf.5june2015@gmail.com