Europe Rejects Brazilian Mahogany Imports

AMSTERDAM, The Netherlands, March 29, 2002 (ENS) - The long battle Greenpeace has waged against the illegal logging and trade of Brazilian mahogany is bearing fruit.

The international environmental pressure group received documentation today confirming that the European Commission is now warning all European Union countries to reject Brazilian mahogany.

The March 26 Note to the Management Authorities of the 15 EU Member States from Christoph Bail, head of global and international affairs in the environment directorate, “advises Member States not to accept export permits for specimens of Swietenia macrophylla [mahogany] from Brazil until further notice, without first obtaining from the Brazilian authorities a statement that those specimens were legally acquired.”


Logs of Brazilian mahogany (Two photos courtesy Greenpeace)
Big-leafed mahogany, also known as American mahogany, grows from the south of Mexico throughout Central and South America to Bolivia and Brazil, including large portions of the Amazon Basin. It is one of the hardest of neotropical woods, and one of the most important and valuable on the international market.

Worldwide consumer demand for quality mahogany furniture drives the trade. Wholesale stripping of Amazon forests has resulted in an estimated 70 percent depletion of the world's supply.

Last October, the Brazilian environmental agency IBAMA suspended indefinitely the trading of mahogany following evidence of widespread illegal logging on public and Indian lands. IBAMA maintains that “all the stocks of mahogany awaiting internal and external marketing are illegal.”

The banning of mahogany logging in three Amazon states, Para, Mato Grosso and Acre, was imposed by decree on December 5, 2001.


Rafts of mahogany logs await transport to market.
Several powerful mahogany exporters took legal action and were allowed by a court decision to continue to traffic illegally acquired mahogany. Since then at least eight companies ave exported over 15,000 cubic meters of mahogany with an export value of approximately US$11 million, according to Greenpeace.

The Commission's move follows announcements made by the German and Belgian governments to stop mahogany being imported into their countries and from entering the trade.

Following a Greenpeace protest action on a shipment in Germany last month, 300 cubic meters of mahogany, imported by DLH, the world’s largest international trader of mahogany, have been confiscated by the German authorities.

In Belgium, following evidence provided by Greenpeace, the government requested the Dutch authorities to stop a consignment for the Belgian trader Bomoco entering Belgium. Today, another consignment in Belgium destined for the Italian importer Laster Spa, was seized.

In the UK, Greenpeace has received approval from the Appeal Courts of Justice to take the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to Judicial Review over imports of Brazilian mahogany. Last month, the government refused to seize a shipment of over 800 cubic meters of mahogany and allowed the importer to sell it into the timber trade. The UK is the largest European market for mahogany.

Greenpeace Amazon campaign coordinator Paulo Adario says this is a strong signal that European governments must take immediate steps to end the trade in illegal mahogany. "International action and cooperation is essential if we are to stop destruction in the Amazon and other ancient forests around the world," he said.

Now Greenpeace is urging the United States, the world's largest importer of Amazon wood, to also suspend the mahogany trade until it can be proven that the wood comes from legitimate legal sources.


Mahogany logs in the Brazilian Amazon (Photo courtesy TRAFFIC)
TRAFFIC, the joint wildlife trade monitoring program of the World Wide Fund For Nature and the World Conservation Union, says there are indications of a decrease in exports of mahogany from Brazil and Bolivia. "This is partly due to increase of control measures but also because of exhaustion of the resource."

In June 1997, a proposal by Bolivia and the United States to include this species in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) for strict monitoring of its trade was narrowly rejected. Similar proposals were rejected at previous CITES meetings in 1992 and 1994.

After the 1997 meeting the exporting countries of Brazil and Bolivia and the biggest importer, the USA, formed a working group to examine the status, management and trade in this species throughout its range. That group was reconveneded in 2000.

The market is growing constantly, TRAFFIC says, and the demand continues to be supplied by wild mahogany, especially at the time when the mahogany plantations in the region are still in their early days.