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New tropical timber pact takes aims at illegal logging

New tropical timber pact takes aims at illegal logging

New tropical timber pact takes aims at illegal logging
Rhett A. Butler,
February 1, 2006

Late last week, countries that export and export tropical timber reached a 10-year agreement to help promote the sustainable development of forests while fighting illegal logging.

The accord—which replaces the 1994 International Tropical Timber Agreement (ITTA)—comes after two weeks of negotiations between more than 180 representatives from governments and international organizations.

The pact calls on signatories to support and develop tropical timber reforestation projects and share information on forestry management, while promoting the expansion and diversification of international trade in tropical timber from sustainably managed and legally harvested forests. The agreement, which was signed by 33 producing and 26 consuming countries, also aims to improve forest law enforcement and governance, specifically addressing illegal logging which is quite prevalent and extremely costly for developing countries.

The World Bank estimates that governments lose about US$5 billion in revenues annually as a result of illegal logging while overall losses to the national economies of timber-producing countries add up to an additional US$10 billion per year. The illegal timber trade diminishes the value of tropical timber by undercutting world prices and depletes the natural resource base, costing tropical countries in the long-term by reducing revenue-generating potential of forests. Timber is now a decreasingly important industry in many former wood-exporting countries in Southeast Asia and West Africa due to poor forest management and illegal logging. Some of these states—including Cambodia, Nigeria, and Vietnam—today have the world’s highest rates.

Over the past five years, total tropical deforestation rates have increased 8.5 percent when compared with the average annual loss during the 1990s. Annual loss of primary forests—the most biodiverse form of forest—expanded by almost 24 percent over the same period. Overall, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that 10.40 million hectares of tropical forest were permanently destroyed each year in the period from 2000 to 2005, an area the size of Lebanon.

Thai rubber plantation

In an effort to slow this loss, while bringing economic benefits to developing countries, the new agreement will focus on sustainable development initiatives says Dr Manoel Sobral Filho, the Executive Director of the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO), the agency which administers the accord.

“People want neither poverty nor environmental degradation,” said Dr Sobral. “ITTO believes that natural tropical forests can be both conserved for future generations and put to economic use to alleviate poverty and contribute to national development. This new agreement articulates this belief and gives material support for it through innovative funding mechanisms.”

Dr Sobral added that many people think the conservation of tropical forests and the development of the tropical timber trade are mutually exclusive.

“On the contrary, the one is essential for the other,” he said. “Without conservation there can be no long-term trade. Without trade, the forests will be cleared for agriculture because, one way or another, the people living in tropical countries will continue to demand economic development.”

The new agreement’s involvement of both producing and consuming nations is important to developing a sound policy for managing the tropical timber trade, though trade actions alone cannot ensure the sustainable management of forests. Work must be done in tropical countries to ensure that sustainable development is truly sustainable in the long run.

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