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New illegal logging ban in EU could sever all ties with companies working in DRC

Yesterday, the EU joined the U.S. and Australia in banning all timber that was illegally harvested abroad. The new regulation could have a major impact on where the EU sources its timber, and no where more so than the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). According to a new report by Greenpeace, the DRC’s current moratorium on industrial logging is being systematically circumvented making all timber from the country suspect.

“Logging companies, including multinationals, are routinely flouting Congolese law, with complete impunity,” said Irène Wabiwa, forests campaigner with Greenpeace Africa. “Many are involved in large-scale timber laundering and as a result, the government is denied tax revenues.”

Despite the moratorium on industrial logging set up in 2002, companies are using artisanal permits meant for smallscale logging, according to the new report, Cut It Out: Illegal Logging in the DRC. One of the most popular targets is the wengé tree (Millettia laurentii). Although listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List, the tree is often illegally cut and exported to the EU or China. But the new law across the 27 countries that make-up the EU means buyers must practice diligent caution.

Wengé log and stump in DRC forest, likely illegally logged. Photo: © Greenpeace.
Wengé log and stump in DRC forest, likely illegally logged. Photo: © Greenpeace.

“DRC timber is clearly extremely high risk,” the report reads. “The lack of independent systems to verify legality in DRC makes it difficult—if not impossible—for EU-based timber traders to comply with the new due diligence requirements.”

During recent investigative visits to DRC ports and forests in the Bandundu Province, Greenpeace found several companies maneuvering around the law. The group found that loggers were sharing the same artisanal permit, cutting significantly more than allowed for, and bribing locals for access to forests. According to the report much of the logging from the DRC to the EU ends up in France, Portugal, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

“Any timber operators caught selling illegal timber on the EU market will now risk being prosecuted and facing sanctions. There is no other option for the industry but to comply,” explains Danielle Van Oijen, a forests campaigner with Greenpeace, who adds that so long as the EU enforces the law, it “can promote a change of behaviour in the global timber industry, including in the DRC and to help stop forest destruction.”

Greenpeace recommends that the DRC government stop issuing artisanal permits and cancel all existing illegal permits while tackling corruption and instituting transparency. The group would also like to see the DRC allow “communities to manage their forests responsibly for their own benefit and not for the benefit of industrial loggers.”

The global illegal logging trade has been estimated to be worth $30-$100 billion each year, accounting for 15-30 percent of all deforestation in the tropics. Tropical forest destruction threatens global biodiversity, local watersheds, and releases greenhouse gases. Local and indigenous people often lose access to the resources they depend on. Illegal logging has also been linked to other criminal trades, such as human trafficking, drugs, and weapons sales. Given this, many countries are taking a harder line on illegal logging, including the U.S. and Australia. Recently, Interpol arrested 197 people involved in the illegal logging trade across Central and South America in the first sting of its kind by the The International Criminal Police Organization.

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Foreign loggers and corrupt officials flouting logging moratorium in the Democratic Republic of Congo

(11/08/2012) In 2002 the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) announced a moratorium on commercial logging in a bid to save rapidly falling forests, however a new report by Global Witness alleges that industrial loggers are finding a way around the logging freeze. Through unscrupulous officials, foreign companies are abusing artisanal permits—meant for local community logging—to clear-cut wide swathes of tropical forest in the country. These logging companies are often targeting an endangered tree—wenge (Millettia laurentii)—largely for buyers in China and Europe.

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