Natural teak from Burma is considered best by boat builders, but the
price is destruction of natural forest and financial support for the
military junta. Nevertheless, there is constantly less importation of
tropical timber from Burma. Photo: Ulvar Arnkværn/Norwatch.
By Pia A. Gaarder
(Published in Norwegian 16 January 2009)
On Thursday, 15 January, Statistics Norway published the latest results for Norwegian foreign trade in 2008. Norwatch has calculated the figures for trade with Burma. Even though the value of the total importation has increased from 7.2 million Norwegian kroners (823.000 euro) in 2007 to 8.3 million (949 million euro) in 2008, the import volume has nevertheless decreased sharply.
Norway has primarily imported clothing and teak from the military dictatorship. The value of the tropical timber – mostly teak – that was imported from Burma in 2008 shows a marked value increase from 4.4 million kroners (500.000 euro) in 2007 to 7.2 million (823.000 euro). Nevertheless, less tropical timber from the military dictatorship is finding its way into Norway.
The importation figures for “Timber from tropical tree types” show in fact that, in 2007, 145.8 tonnes were imported, whereas in 2008 124.2 tonnes were imported. The decrease in volume has, in other words, amounted to 21.6 tonnes, or 17.4%.
With regard to clothing importation from Burma, this continues to be dramatically reduced. In the course of one year the clothing importation has been reduced by 54.1%, from 2.4 million (274.000 euro) in 2007 to 1.1 million (125.000 euro) in 2008. This is a marked reduction from the peak year of 2002, when the clothing importation amounted to NKR 8.6 million (983.000 euro).
“That importation decreases is a positive development and shows that it helps to inform people about the regime in Burma,” Inger Lise Husøy, general manager of The Norwegian Burma Committee, told Norwatch.
Debate on the Boycott Strategy
Norwatch has studied the import development since former Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik in the autumn of 1997 called upon Norwegian trade and industry to boycott Burma. The boycott request had an effect the first two years, with a low point in 1999. In 2000 the boycott request was shelved, and the importation exploded. For a long time the import tendency was, with variations, clearly increasing, but now it seems to have turned, at least if one analyses the figures and not just the total import values (see Table).
Erik Solheim, Minister of International Development, visited Burma in January together with the Danish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ulla Tørnæs, to look into the humanitarian situation in the country. The purpose of the visit was primarily to examine the situation in the Irrawaddy delta, where 140,000 people died last year as a result of a cyclone and flooding.
During their visit on 21 and 22 January, Solheim and Tørnæs also met with representatives of the military junta. Before leaving for Burma, Solheim informed the Norwegian News Agency that he would discuss the human rights situation – among other things, the situation of Aung San Suu Kyi, who is still under house arrest.
No Indications as to Boycott Termination
In connection with Solheim’s trip, the debate as to whether the boycott is the right strategy with regard to the junta has sprung up again.
Inger Lise Husøy of The Norwegian Burma Committee told Norwatch that they have not received any indications from the democracy movement in Burma that they have changed their point of view on the boycott. “In this matter Norwegian foreign policy complies with the EU, which supports the sanctions against Burma. But continued boycott does not exclude dialog,” Husøy emphasised.
The democracy movement spearheaded by Aung San Suu Kyi has for several years requested continued, resolved economic sanctions with regard to both trade and tourism. The military junta participates directly in the economy and demands profits from practically all economic activity in the country. This money does not benefit the population but supports the regime’s military apparatus.
TABLE: Importation of goods from Burma, 1997-2008
| Total imports |
|Clothing imports |
| Tropical timber |
| Timber imports |
| 1997 ||10,4 ||1,7||6,7 ||* |
| 1998 ||5,9||2,6||2,3||*|
|1999||4,1 ||1,7 ||1,1 ||41,7 |
|2000||10,5 ||6,3 ||2,6||112,1|
*) Figures not available.
Number of tonnes is based on the import category “Timber from tropical tree types…”, which constitutes the major part of the importation from Burma and which mainly consists of teak. The value figures for teak importation also include some small import categories, such as plywood. The difference is so small that it has not been calculated. In addition, a few other products in addition to tropical timber and clothing are imported from Burma.