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  New Straits Times 27 May 07
EU stops importing Malaysian ramin
Elizabeth John

KUALA LUMPUR: The European Union has placed a temporary ban on the import of ramin wood from Malaysia, which could potentially affect exports of thousands of cubic metres of the timber.

The EU’s Scientific Review Group (SRG) made this decision after the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry failed to reply to questions about the volume of ramin exports.

The SRG had asked questions because it found Malaysia’s ramin export quota very high and was concerned that the timber may not have come from sustainably managed forests.

Although the export of timber does not fall under the purview of the ministry, it was asked to answer the questions as it is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) authority in Malaysia. Ramin is listed on Appendix II of CITES, under which a yearly quota strictly regulates its export.

Under the convention, exporting countries like Malaysia may only allow exports when the ramin is legally obtained and is harvested without detriment to the species.

According to EU wildlife trade regulations — which enforces CITES requirements — member states must ensure the same before they issue import permits for ramin.

"Without the information, the group had to conclude that the requirements for imports under the EU regulations were not met," an SRG spokesman said. However, he added that after the decision was taken, Malaysia responded to the questions and provided supporting documents.

"We are now in consultation with Malaysia. "All information received will be put forward to the SRG in order to consider the issue," he said.

In response to questions from the New Sunday Times, a Natural Resources and Environment Ministry spokesperson would only say the ministry was communicating with the EU and trying to find a solution to the problem. It is not known when the ban can be reviewed.

Questions first arose at an SRG meeting last September when the group expressed concern that ramin export levels from Malaysia, and Sarawak in particular, were high.

At that meeting, it also decided to urge Malaysia to lower the export quota for 2007, the SRG spokesman said. The group was particularly worried about reports that almost 90 per cent of the ramin exported was derived from "land clearance" or forests being cleared for other land uses, said the spokesperson referring to Sarawak.

"This would indicate that most of the ramin exported was not from sustainably managed forests as required under CITES," he explained.

This report led the group to ask Malaysia for a non-detriment finding — a scientific report, which proves that the volume of ramin the country is harvesting for export will not harm the survival of the species.

However, by the time the group met in March to review the matter, it had not received Malaysia’s response and made a decision to halt imports of ramin from the country.

Industry sources told the NST that the amount of ramin to be harvested and exported from the country this year — 32,875 cubic metres — is relatively small when compared to the country’s total timber exports.

Only a portion of this quota is exported to EU countries, and according to CITES figures, this year’s quota is significantly less than last year’s, which was set at 45,000 cubic metres.

The source said only a few timber traders who had actually had their cargoes ready for shipping to fulfil orders had felt the impact of the ban.

But a report in The Borneo Post in April quoted a businessman dealing in timber in Sarawak as saying the situation was serious and pressing to merchants there.

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