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September 4, 2008
The European Union has signed a sustainable forestry deal with Ghana that would stop imports of illegally-harvested timber from the West African nation, according to a statement released by the European Forest Institute.
The agreement comes under the European Commission’s 2003 Action Plan on Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT), which seeks to address illicit timber imports. The regulation requires chain-of-custody documentation for timber to be imported into the E.U.
The “Voluntary Partnership Agreement” signed in Accra, the capital of Ghana, requires the Ghanian government to develop “transparent systems for collecting timber taxes and ensuring legal compliance in their forest sector” and the EU to “[establish] border measures to exclude unlicensed Ghanaian wood from the European market, according to the European Forest Institute. The forestry compliance measures in Ghana will be funded by the E.U.
“For many years, Europe has talked the talk of saving the world’s forests but demanded increasing volumes of cheap wood imports, providing profitable markets for illegal wood from very poor countries,” said Dr. Ralph Ridder, FLEGT Team Coordinator of the European Forest Institute. “Now European consumers are increasingly sensitive to global deforestation, so the EU has responded by seeking to turn around this dynamic through the VPA mechanism and today’s agreement.”
Europe imports more than half of Ghana’s timber exports. The forest sector in Ghana is worth an estimated US$400 million a year, ranking only behind gold, tourism and cocoa in export earnings for Ghana.
The E.U. is currently negotiating Voluntary Partnership Agreements with Indonesia, Cameroon, Malaysia and the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville). The E.U. hopes the effort will slow the illegal timber trade, which by some estimates is worth more than $15 billion per year.
“Consumers, companies and governments should become aware of the relationship between price, and the impact on the environment and on developing country economies of what they buy. If you only look for the cheapest product, you may well be getting illegal wood, with all the environmental and social damage that that entails,” said Ridder. “Once implemented, this agreement will mean that buying wood from Ghana ensures that consumers, industry and government in the EU are doing the right thing.”
“If tropical forests are to retain their integrity, then they must be valued, and we hope that consumers will appreciate the need to pay properly for legal and well-managed timber,” said Richard Carter, managing director of RJC Agencies Ltd, a UK firm that serves as an agent for purchasers of wood in the United Kingdom.