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Bulk of Ghana timber exports may be illegal

The bulk of timber produced from logging operations in Ghana fails to meet criteria set for import into the E.U. claims a new report from Global Witness.

The environmental watchdog group analyzed some 800 permits granted to logging companies in Ghana and found that the majority of timber carries a “high-risk of being illegal”, making it a liability for European importers under the E.U.’s anti-illegal logging law that went into effect in March. Permits for 80 percent of the country’s 15,000 square kilometers of logging concessions aren’t recognized under Ghana’s current legal framework for forestry.

“Ghana’s logging permits are in a mess. Of six types of permit issued by the authorities to logging companies, only two fall within the government’s own definition of what is legal,” said David Young, Forest Sector Transparency Campaigner at Global Witness, in a statement. “Until the government gets its house in order European buyers should consider all Ghanaian timber products as extremely risky, and make sure they are doing thorough checks along their supply chains.”

The green and red zones represent the area covered by forestry permits that should be considered “safe” for European timber importers.

The review also found that only a fraction of the permits were obtained through a competitive bidding process as required by Ghanian law.

Global Witness says that European companies risk fines and jail time under the EU’s new Timber Regulation (EUTR) if they import Ghanaian timber found to have been sourced illegally.

“We have seen two lists – the one the Government of Ghana made public before the new regulations kicked in, and one it sent us. The numerous inconsistencies suggest the first step in ensuring legality – the allocation of permits – is not working,” said Young. “Buyers should be worried about that: if they are caught importing timber cut under an illegal permit they could face up to two years in jail in some jurisdictions.”

Ghana is a major African timber exporter. According to the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO), in 2011 Ghana was Africa’s largest exporter of plywood, fourth biggest exporter of industrial roundwood, and third leading exporter of sawnwood.

According to the U.N, forest covers 4.9 million hectares or about 22 percent of Ghana, while primary forest amounts to less than 395,000 hectares. The West African nation loses more than 100,000 hectares of forest per year.

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