Africa's logging permit crisis puts EU at risk of laundering illegal timber imports

Global Witness

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
May 2, 2013

Systematic abuse of small, poorly regulated logging permits in Africa by companies, forest officials and politicians is undermining efforts to fight deforestation and keep illegal timber out of the EU, says a new report byGlobal Witness.

The new report, Logging in the shadows, identifies a largely hidden pattern of abuse across Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ghana and Liberia, in which permits designed to promote small businesses and meet local needs are being allocated in their hundreds to industrial logging companies. These “shadow permits” open the door to highly lucrative, large-scale logging operations which bypass oversight by the authorities.

"This is a very worrying trend – logging companies are systematically colluding with corrupt officials to get around laws designed to stop them decimating forests and abusing those that live in them. This is massively undermining international efforts to regulate the international timber trade, notably the EU’s Voluntary Partnership Agreements and Timber Regulation,” said Alexandra Pardal, Europe Campaigner at Global Witness.

12.4 billion Euros worth of timber considered to pose a high risk of illegality entered the EU in 2011[1]. In March 2013 the EU Timber Regulation prohibited the import of illegal timber, but in the past two months Global Witness and Greenpeace have uncovered suspicious log shipments in EU ports from two of the countries featured in Logging in the shadows [2].

Meanwhile, the EU has been developing Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) with timber-exporting countries, which involve comprehensive forest governance reforms aimed at stamping out the illegal trade. Neither the EU Timber Regulation nor the VPAs take account of the widespread use of shadow permits, however. This means they could end up laundering the type of wood products they were designed to exclude

"Unless European and African policy-makers take urgent action, shadow permits could become the Trojan horse by which illegal timber is brought into the EU and passed off as legitimate. Timber importers must do proper checks right the way along their supply chains to make sure they know exactly where their timber came from and whether the permit used to get it was legal,” said Pardal.

The Logging in the shadows report details how:

• In the DRC, dozens of Artisanal Logging Permits were allocated between 2010 and 2012, mostly to foreign industrial companies, violating DRC's forest laws in at least ten different ways;

• In Liberia, companies have abused licences known as Private Use Permits to buy up a quarter of the country's total land mass in just two years [3];

• In Ghana, the Forestry Commission secretly granted more than 400 Salvage Permits while assuring civil society and the EU that it was addressing their concerns;

• In Cameroon, throughout 2011, the former Minister of Forests granted dozens of ‘small titles', a long-standing byword for illegal logging, while pretending to regulate them.

"The EU’s investment in protecting some of the world’s most precious rainforests is very welcome, but unless its reforms address all types of permits being used, they will fail and the forests will be gone. We have seen specific loopholes closed in DRC or Liberia, but the problem appears to change shape slightly and reemerge with a new name. Transparency, openness, and competitive bidding processes should be the rule for all types of logging permit.” said Pardal.

© 2013 by The Perspective
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