The Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) issued a statement on October 2, 2020 that the office would initiate an investigation into “Vietnam’s acts, policies, and practices related to the import and use of timber that is illegally harvested or traded”.

U.S. imports of forest products from Vietnam increased a massive 2,137% between 2015 and 2019.

The U.S. Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer said, “Using illegal timber in wood products exported to the U.S. market harms the environment and is unfair to U.S. workers and businesses who follow the rules by using legally harvested timber.”

The USTR will also investigate Vietnam’s acts, policies, and practices that may contribute to the undervaluation of its currency.

According to the Federal Register notice, the investigation will initially focus on the following issues:

  • Vietnamese imports of illegal timber may be inconsistent with Vietnam’s domestic laws, the laws of exporting countries, or international rules. The import of illegal timber may indicate that Vietnam is not enforcing its own laws concerning the import and processing of timber, such as laws requiring that wood processors ensure the lawful origins of the timber they use. For species listed under the CITES that are imported from Cambodia or the DRC, there is evidence that Vietnamese authorities are not requiring the permits or certificates that should be needed to enter or re-export from Vietnam.
  • Evidence indicates that Vietnam at least tacitly may support the import and use of illegal timber. For example, reports indicate that Vietnamese officials do not record the origin of timber crossing the Cambodia-Vietnam border. This practice would enable Vietnamese exporters to disclaim knowledge of illegal timber inputs when exporting wood products to third countries. Vietnam may have allowed the importation of CITES-listed species based on invalid CITES permits. At the provincial government level, there are reports of Vietnamese officials accepting payments in return for facilitating illegal timber imports.
  • Other acts, policies, and practices of Vietnam relating to the import and use of illegal timber.

The USTR will accept written comments on any issue covered by the investigation until November 12, 2020.

Buyers of wood products from Vietnam can sign up to receive alerts on illegal wood risks in Vietnam here. Likewise, they can refer to the Timber Risk Map periodically to check for updates.

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