US companies continue to import teak, a valuable hardwood, from Myanmar despite sanctions imposed by Washington following the military takeover of the country last year, according to a watchdog group.
Justice for Myanmar, a human rights group, found that US companies were importing the wood from Myanmar as recently as December, despite sanctions being put in place in April. The group said in a report released on Tuesday the companies appeared to skirt sanctions by buying through intermediaries.
In total, almost 1,600 tonnes of timber reached US companies between February and November last year, the group said, citing figures from global trade database Panjiva.
“The timber arrived in 82 different shipments … largely consisting of teak board and scantling that are used for shipbuilding, outdoor decking and furniture,” said the group, which urged the US and other governments to crack down on the teak trade to better stem the flow of funds to Myanmar’s military leadership.
“It is likely that even more teak is being exported to the US via third countries such as China,” the report said.
The US Treasury sanctions, which were announced on April 21, 2021, ban dealings with Myanmar Timber Enterprise, a state-owned company under the country’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation. The company oversees all exports of timber from Myanmar and sells to private companies through auctions.
The European Union imposed similar sanctions in June.
Timber is one of resource-rich Myanmar’s most valuable industries, bringing in millions of dollars a year in taxes and export revenues.
According to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, a global monitoring group, Myanmar received almost $100m in revenues from taxes and royalties on the timber trade in the 2017-18 financial year, while revenues for the entire forestry industry totalled $322m.
Myanmar’s military, led by Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, alleging election fraud, overthrew the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy in February of 2021.
Rights observers say nearly 1,500 people have been killed and about 11,500 have been arrested in subsequent military crackdowns.
On Monday, the 76-year-old Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, was sentenced to four years in prison on top of a prior two-year sentence she was ordered to serve on charges critics say are politically motivated.
Rights group Amnesty International called the new convictions “the latest act in the farcical trial against the civilian leader”.