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Europe not doing enough to stop illegal logging imports says Greenpeace

Europe is failing to fully enforce its one-year-old EU Timber Regulation (EUTR), alleges Greenpeace, with illegally-logged wood still slipping into the continent, especially from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

“The logging sector in Democratic republic of Congo is in a state of organized chaos and only by efficiently cutting off the EU as a destination for its illegal wood, can we begin to protect the country’s vast tracts of forest and the communities who depend on it,” said Raoul Monsembula, country director with Greenpeace Africa for the DRC.

Following on the heels of similar laws in the U.S. and Australia, the European Union Timber Regulation (EUTR) bans the importation of timber or timber products illegally-logged elsewhere. Given an illegal logging epidemic in the DRC, at the time of the law’s implementation last March, observers thought it would cut almost all timber ties between the EU and the DRC. However, investigations by Greenpeace and other groups over the past 12 months have found this isn’t so.

Last May, a shipment of Afromosia wood, or African teak (Pericopsis elata), from the DRC was released into the EU market despite several months of attempting to verify its legality. Greenpeace claims officials never proved the timber came from a legal source. DRC-sourced timber from Wenge trees (Millettia laurentii) was also imported into the Czech Republic, Italy, and Germany last summer, although Greenpeace contends it was illegally logged. In fact, German authorities confiscated the shipment in that country after deeming it illegal.

Greenpeace activists protesting Wenge wood shipment in the Czech Republic. Photo by:© Ibra Ibrahimovic / Greenpeace.

Greenpeace activists protesting Wenge wood shipment in the Czech Republic. Photo by:© Ibra Ibrahimovic / Greenpeace.

“This was initially a promising step but the file has not led to a criminal investigation and the German companies that placed the wood on the EU market have not been fined nor prosecuted,” reads a blog post by forest campaigner, Danielle van Oijen, with Greenpeace Netherlands. “Bois d’Afrique Mondiale, the Swiss based company that supplied the wood in the first place, has yet to be held accountable.”

Suspicious imports are ongoing, according to Greenpeace who points to imports from timber company Sicobois into France. In a short briefing released yesterday, Greenpeace says that timber from Sicobois is suspect both in terms of legality and social violence.

“Several irregularities were discovered [in Sicobois timber trade], including the incorrect marking of logs that affected its traceability, and logging permits that had not been delivered until after the logging had already happened,” reads the Greenpeace report on their investigation. “Residents in the community of Bagenza alerted the authorities…that Sicobois was logging without prior consultation.”

Greenpeace also accuses Sicobois workers of harassing local community members, including meting out beatings and alleged rape. Conflicts with the community have also led to a string of arrests by military and police, many without formal charges. Some logging companies in Africa depend on government enforcement agencies or private security to deal with unhappy communities.

“The European Union Timber Regulation was a welcome new legislation last March, but the first year of its mandate has demonstrated that governments and competent authorities really have to step up and ensure that proper enforcement of the law is possible,” Van Oijen said.

Experts have estimated that the illegal logging trade is worth $15-$100 billion annually, accounting for some 15-30 percent of deforestation in the tropics. The practice contributes to climate change, undercuts biodiversity conservation, and often leads to conflict with locals who see the forests they depend on vanish. In addition, it robs local countries of revenues from taxes and ecosystem services.

Logging truck in the DRC. Photo by: © Thomas Einberger/argum/Greenpeace.
Logging truck in the DRC. Photo by: © Thomas Einberger/argum/Greenpeace.

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