for National Geographic News
Vietnam has become a hub for processing Asia's illegally logged timber, much of which is sold in the United States as outdoor furniture, conservationists say.
In a report released in March, the U.K.-based nonprofit Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and its Indonesian partner Telapak warned that the illegal timber trade is threatening some of the last intact forests in Southeast Asia, especially in Laos.
"Despite wide awareness of the problem of illegal logging and a series of political commitments to tackle the issue, demand for cut-price wood products is still fuelling the illegal destruction of some of the worlds most significant remaining tropical forests," said Julian Newman, head of the EIA's forest campaign program.
It is currently legal in the United States to import illegally sourced wood products. But legislation now under consideration in the U.S. Congress would ban imports of wood products derived from illegally harvested timber.
Endangered Species at Greater Risk
EIA estimates that the illegal logging business, which the agency says is orchestrated by cross-border criminal syndicates working with corrupt officials, costs developing countries some 10 billion to 15 billion U.S. dollars a year.
A rise in timber prices has prompted some wood-producing countries, such as Indonesia, to clamp down on illegal logging.
Other countries, such as China and Vietnam, have taken measures to sharply reduce all logging of their own forests, while importing timber from neighboring countries for their growing timber-processing industries.
Around 60 percent of the trade in tropical timber moves between the countries of southern and eastern Asia, according to EIA.
"One of the biggest shifts in the timber industry in Asia over the last decade or so has been the emergence of a huge wood-processing industry in China and Vietnam," said Newman.
The Mekong region—which includes Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Myanmar (Burma), and China—has some of the most valuable and vulnerable tree species sought by the international timber trade, including rosewood, keruing, teak, and yellow balau.
(See a map of southeast Asia.)
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