Effective July of 2014, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) has granted a license to import wood directly from the Myanmar Timber Enterprise (MTE). This license is granted solely to International Wood Products Association (IWPA) members, and J. Gibson McIlvain has been a long standing member of IWPA. The implications of this license are exciting as there has been so much confusion about the Myanmar timber (and specifically Teak) market, and now we finally have a clear protocol and license to operate under in order to ensure the legal import of Teak. The really exciting part of this is that a major requirement in holding the license is to take an active role in reform and sustainability of the valuable timber trade in Myanmar.
The Myanmar forests used to be the picture of sustainability under British management, but unfortunately, they were not maintained under military government rule. Embargo and political difficulties in recent decades have prevented any outside guidance or intervention, and the forests have suffered. Now with a new government in place, we (and the European and Australian Timber Trade) have an opportunity to lend help and advice. With the log bans and export regulation, there is a fundamental shift in the Myanmar timber trade from operating solely as a log export country into becoming a sawmill country. This is a major shift, and there will be a lot for them to learn. This new license has given us and other IWPA members a place at the table where we can encourage the modern principles of sustainability and quality in Myanmar.
Reform of the timber trade is just one part of our responsibilities under the IWPA license. Another big part is the promotion of lesser known species. We all know about Teak, and that is the primary product coming out of Myanmar, but there are so many other great species that are all but unknown in the U.S. One of the best things we can do for the forests is to diversify the usage and building markets for these others species;this would be a huge step forward to ensuring the health of that ecosystem.
Of course I would be remiss if I didn’t state how beneficial it is to have a defined process for import in place that will allow us to continue to source high quality, genuine Teak.
The key point to remember is that this license, as mentioned above, just gives us a place at the table. It does not guarantee legal import, and all local and international regulations must be followed in order to remain compliant with the Lacey Act. There remains a lot of gray areas in the import process, and if you are buying Teak or any timber from Myanmar, it is imperative that these regulations be understood.
J. Gibson McIlvain was an integral part in obtaining this license through IWPA, and as such, we can help to answer any of the questions you may have about the legal import of Teak and other species. It is important that we all adhere to the stipulations under this license as it is subject for renewal after 1 year. To help our customers out, we have created a “3 Questions” document that will help to quickly qualify or disqualify any supplier of Teak. Feel free to download a copy, and please don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions about what this may mean for your business or a specific project.
In the end this license can mean nothing but good news for buyers and users of Teak. It is a first step towards a stronger marketplace and stronger resource. It is up to all of us to adhere to its reporting and usage structure and to raise awareness of its existence so that suppliers working outside its confines can be avoided.
Finally, a special thanks goes out to IWPA and all the industry leaders who worked very hard to make this license a reality.