KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) — Malaysia, a major timber exporter, said Tuesday that it would beef up its laws to fight a serious illegal logging problem that could harm the country's reputation.
Deputy prime minister Najib Razak, who also heads the National Forestry Council, said companies involved in logging would now be responsible for providing evidence that they had not cut down trees illegally.
"The council agreed to review and amend the National Forestry Act to incorporate the principle that the burden of proof was transferred to the party that is found to be in possession of timber," he said.
"This means those found in possession of timber must furnish proof from where the trees were cut. If they cannot show proof, it means they have committed an offence," he was quoted as saying by the official Bernama news agency.
Najib's remarks come after Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi pledged last month not to indiscriminately approve logging licences, amid mounting concern that clearances are threatening endangered species and tribal communities.
Najib warned that illegal logging could compromise Malaysia's policy on sustainable management of its environment.
"It can jeopardise our efforts to preserve biodiversity, flora and fauna and have an impact on global warming. At the international level, illegal logging portrays a negative image of our country," he said.
"It can harm our national economy as the timber industry produces 23 billion ringgit (6.8 billion dollars) worth of wood-based products a year," he added.
Najib said that if developed countries in Europe and the United States were to take action, it could "adversely affect" Malaysia's economy.
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