Tuesday, 10 February 2004

Ceisteanna (147)

John Gormley


223 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he intends to use the Irish Presidency to raise the issue of logging in Burma with both the Burmese Government and the Chinese Government, which import much of the hardwood; if, as part of Ireland's Presidency, the EU will make it illegal to import conflict timber and timber that has been logged, transported or traded illegally, and punish those companies and persons involved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3677/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Foreign)

Officials from my department met recently representatives of Global Witness, and were briefed by them on their report A Conflict of Interests: the Uncertain Future of Burma's Forests, published in October 2003. The Deputy will be aware that the misuse of natural resources to finance illegal armed conflict is one which is of considerable concern to the United Nations. Last year, for instance, the United Nations Security Council imposed a ban on the import from Liberia of all round logs and timber products originating from Liberia, based on the recognised linkage between the illegal exploitation of natural resources such as diamonds and timber, illicit trade in such resources, and the proliferation and trafficking of illegal arms as a major source of fuelling and exacerbating conflict in west Africa. The Council also determined that it was not satisfied that the timber industry in Liberia was being used for legitimate social, humanitarian and development purposes and was, instead, being used to violate the demands of the Council. In all such cases, a number of factors need to be considered, including the reliability of evidence of illegal exploitation of resources and its linkage to conflict, as well as the likelihood and magnitude of adverse humanitarian consequences from any sanctions measure.

As regards Burma, the primary focus of the EU at present is to encourage the restoration of democracy in that country. The EU Common Position on Burma provides, inter alia, for a visa ban on members of the regime, a freeze on all their financial assets in the European Union, an embargo on the export to Burma of arms, munitions and military equipment which might be used for internal suppression, and the suspension of humanitarian aid or development programmes, other than those in support of human rights and democracy, poverty alleviation and health and basic education. While it does not affect the position regarding trade in timber from Burma, we will keep this issue under review, with our partners.