EU fuelling illegal logging trade, says report

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Almost a fifth of the wood imported into the EU stems from illegal logging, compounding deforestation and climate change, according to a report published on 22 July by environmental group WWF.

The report, based on 2006 imports, suggests that between 16% and 19% of the wood imported into the EU comes from illegal logging or suspicious sources. 

This means that about 30 million cubic metres of wood was imported into the EU illegally in 2006, it estimates. While Russia, China and Indonesia are the bloc’s main suppliers, the report highlights imports from Eastern Europe as particularly troublesome, with some 28% of wood imports suspected of stemming from illegal sources. Russia is also said to have exported some 10 million cubic metres of illegal wood to the EU in 2006. 

Among the major EU importers, which include Finland, the UK, Germany and Italy, WWF points the finger at Finland in particular as the country of destination for nearly half of all (legal and illegal) timber imports from Russia into the EU. There, they are processed into pulp or paper and exported to other EU countries. 

Deforestation is widely recognised as having a detrimental effect on climate change, and the WWF report criticises EU member states for being “guilty” of adding to the problem. According to UN figures, deforestation accounted for 20% of global CO2 emissions in the 1990s, and efforts to stem it featured highly in global climate talks in Bali last December (EURACTIV 14/12/07).

Illegal timber imports are also hitting local economies by pushing timber prices down, says the report. 

WWF urges the EU to improve its current voluntary licensing mechanism – the so-called Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) system – which it believes is not tough enough. “Even if all agreements currently being negotiated by the EU with partner countries were concluded, about 90% of the illegal wood would still enter the EU,” it notes. 

Moreover, with the recent enlargement of the EU, illegal logging has now become more of an internal problem, challenging the new entrants. 

What’s more, it highlights the fact that there is currently no voluntary partnership agreement in the pipeline with China, which is becoming a major global exporter of timber. 

The report thus calls on the EU to set up a system whereby operators must prove the legality and origin of imported wood and whereby inspections take place at the point of sale within the EU. It also recommends that companies take on more responsibility for ensuring that they are complying with existing legislation and “provide for an efficient regime of penalties to deter serious infringements”. 

Other major exporters of illegal wood include South East Asia (40%), Latin America (30%) and Africa (35-55%). 

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