Imposing sanctions is a key strategy in international relations as a corrective force. Several nations have faced the wrath of major economic powers, mostly endorsed by the United Nations. Myanmar had been going through such an experience for years together.
The country was barred from doing trade with the US and many other countries for many years, but wood of Myanmarese origin were used to make products that had been exported to the western countries.
As in most cases of illegal trade, the wood from Myanmar had reached the shores of countries that were not enforcing the ban and re-routed to countries including India.
Such wood had reached various States, including Kerala and the shipments were exported to the US and other countries, according to reliable sources in the wood industry.
The shipments from Myanmar were reaching ports such as Singapore from where Kerala and several other States had been receiving logs of wood.
The shipments continue to reach Kerala even now, but the new shipments belong to the permitted lot as Myanmar has initiated democratic initiatives to the satisfaction of big Western economies.
Kerala is heavily dependent on wood from foreign countries as the local supply is limited.
The demand from the local industries is met partially from the official auctions at Chaliyar, Mudikkal and a few other locations in Kerala.
Coorg in Karnataka is another place from where the wood-based industry in Kerala sources its requirements.
With the conventional sources in a phase of rapid decline in the absence of a balanced afforestation process, wood-based industry in Kerala as well as other States look towards foreign purchasing destinations as felling of trees is restricted and export of logs of wood is banned in the country. The new sources of wood for the Indian industry vary from Latin America, Africa, Indonesia and Malaysia.
A process of international certification of wood, which indicates the origin of wood used for making products, is being adopted by various agencies, but only a few players are participating in the system, with the result that the country of origin of almost all the furniture and other wooden products available in the market could only be a matter of speculation.
The ‘cheru thekku’ or the ‘pyinkado’ (Xylia xylocarpa) wood coming from Myanmar is widely used in Kerala, says S.Ramachandran, a wood importer based in Kochi.
Traders from Myanmar export logs of wood to Singapore as they prefer getting payments in dollars, according to him.
The high cost of teak, about Rs.5000 per cubic feet, within the State is a major reason for traders to source foreign wood, says E.V.Anoop, a professor of Kerala Agricultural University. About 75,000 hectares of teak plantations within the State is inadequate to meet the requirements, he said.
Several countries have begun restricting the export of wood and the availability of wood is bound to be lesser in the future, says M.Gopalakrishnan, who runs an export-oriented wood products company in Ernakulam.
Entry tax for the wood reaching Kerala has added to the woes of Kerala-based industries in the sector. Giving licences for new wood based industries is under the scrutiny of an expert panel, based on a Supreme Court directive. Getting enough raw material for existing industries is a challenge now, he says.