International report questions effectiveness of illegal logging import regulations

A recently released report examining the issue of illegal logging has uncovered many of the false assumptions made by policy makers in industrialised countries. The report – released by the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) – consists of an in-depth analysis of the drivers and impacts of illegal logging, as well as policy responses to the issue.

Not surprisingly, the policy responses of developed countries (particularly the US, EU and Australia) are judged as ineffectual. Authors point out that legislation – including the US Lacey Act, the EU’s Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade Action Plan, and Australia’s Illegal Logging Prohibition Act – has had little impact, “…as the majority of illegal timber is traded domestically. Furthermore, legality verification with limited geographical scope, where effective, might reroute illegal timber to less regulated markets.”

The report goes on to point out that these policies are in fact having negative impacts on poor people in developing countries: “The enforcement of policies aiming to combat illegal logging and related timber trade creates diverse problems. In some cases the complexity of compliance and verification procedures of legality verification procedures impacts negatively on small scale loggers, and/or undermines rights of indigenous communities and other less powerful members of society due to their limited capacities to understand and follow these procedures.”

This newsletter has highlighted some of these issues before. Import restrictions – such as FLEGT, the Lacey Act and the Australian Illegal Logging legislation – are an ineffective way to address a multifaceted problem such as illegal logging. It is commonly agreed that legislative action needs to take place at the source of the problem, that is, in countries where illegal logging is prevalent.

Rich countries could make a much greater impact on illegal logging by investing in the capacity of national governments in timber exporting countries to set and enforce effective forestry laws. Instead, billions of dollars are spent on making criminal of timber importers, while illegal loggers simply divert products elsewhere.

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