EU Agrees Voluntary Plan to Fight Illegal Logging, Timber Trade

BRUSSELS, Belgium, October 24, 2005 (ENS) - The European Commission today welcomed agreement by member states on voluntary measures to fight illegal logging and the trade in illegal timber, a growing problem that robs governments in affected developing countries of an estimated €10-15 billion every year in lost revenue and damages environment.

The measures adopted consist of voluntary partnerships to support and promote governance reform in countries badly affected by illegal logging; and a regulation that sets up a legally-binding licensing scheme with partner countries to ensure that only legal timber from these countries is imported into the EU.

The measures are based on an approach linking efforts to strengthen governance in developing countries with the incentives for good practice offered by the EU market.

European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid Louis Michel said, “All major timber importing countries have to recognize the vital role they must play in closing down the international trade in illegal timber. Today we are showing the way. I strongly encourage others to join our ranks.”

Commenting on the voluntary agreements that are at the core of the measures agreed, Michel said, “Only by working in close partnership with timber-producing countries can we hope to have a real impact. The partnership agreements provide producing countries with the incentives and support required for them to fight illegal logging.”

demo

Greenpeace drops illegal timber in front of the UK's Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). (Photo courtesy Greenpeace/Touhig)
Greenpeace has been campaigning for years to end imports of illegal timber into Europe. Last Wednesday, Greenpeacers dumped more than a ton of plywood secured with large chains blocking the entrance to DEFRA, the UK government's agency responsible for the environment.

Earlier this month, in the port city of Livorno, Italy, Greenpeacers blocked the unloading of the freighter Guan He Kou which was carrying timber from a company involved in illegal logging in the Congo Basin.

Greenpeace says the presence of the Guan He Kou and its rainforest cargo in Europe shows just how easy it is to steal from some of the most biologically rich areas in the world.

After the activists were arrested, the ship continued to deliver the timber before sailing to Spain. No inspections were conducted and there was no seizure of the illegal timber.

The Commission has been addressing illegal logging in a different way. The Commission first proposed measures to combat illegal logging and the associated trade in July 2004.

Later that year the Commission committed €20 million to fund a series of pilot programs to promote greater transparency through independent monitoring of timber harvesting operations; help civil society in developing countries to advocate for better forest governance; and support an innovative public-private partnership with European timber importers.

The Commission is also supporting international dialogue on improving forest governance and combating illegal logging and a €15 million program of technical assistance will begin later this year in Indonesia.

"Governments around the world have known about this problem for years and they've done absolutely nothing about it. Illegally logged timber products from the world's last rainforests are sold openly around the world. This criminal trade must be prohibited immediately," said Phil Aikman, Greenpeace International forests campaigner.

The European Commission's response to the issue of illegal logging has so far been "weak," Aikman said.

He critized the Commission's voluntary approach and pointed to calls from 180 nongovernmental organizations, the European Parliament and 70 companies, including Ikea and B&Q, who have all called for legislation which stops the import of illegally sourced timber products into Europe.

Illegal logging and the trade in illegal timber are prominent among factors contributing to the rapid loss of global forests, Michel acknowledged. This rapid destruction adversely affects many of the world's poorest people, who depend on forest resources for a living.

Illegal logging fuels corruption and undermines the rule of law in many wood-producing countries, the Commissioner said. It also deprives governments of vital revenues to spend on poverty reduction programs.

The World Bank estimates that developing country governments are currently losing some US$10-15 billion annually due to illegal logging.

At the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, the EU pledged to work in partnership with wood-producing countries to eradicate illegal logging and the trade in illegal timber.

Measures to combat illegal logging follow the European Commission’s long standing commitment to the sustainable management and conservation of the world’s remaining forests.

Over the past decade the EC has provided more than €700 million to support forest conservation and sustainable management in Asia, Central Africa and South America.