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About ITTO

ITTO is an intergovernmental organization promoting the conservation and sustainable management, use and trade of tropical forest resources. Its members represent about 80% of the world's tropical forests and 90% of the global tropical timber trade.

A brief history

The International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) was established under the auspices of the United Nations in 1986 amidst increasing worldwide concern for the fate of tropical forests. While almost everyone was alarmed at the rate of deforestation occurring in many tropical countries, there was also considerable agreement that the tropical timber trade was one of the keys to economic development in those same countries. The reconciliation of these two seemingly disparate phenomena is ITTO's story.

ITTO's origins can be traced back to 1976 when the long series of negotiations that led to the first International Tropical Timber Agreement (ITTA) began at the fourth session of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) as part of that organization's Programme for Commodities. The eventual outcome of these negotiations was the ITTA, 1983, which governed the Organization's work until 31 December 1996, when it was superseded by the ITTA, 1994. Negotiations for a successor to this agreement were concluded in 2006, again under the auspices of UNCTAD. The ITTA, 2006 entered into force on December 7, 2011.

As the first ITTA was being negotiated in the early 1980s, concern over the fate of tropical forests was increasing and the international community was being asked to take action. By then, conservation had become at least as important a consideration in the negotiations as trade. This was reflected in the preamble to the Agreement, in which conservation and trade were accorded equal importance. The creators of the Agreement believed that a flourishing trade in tropical timber, if based on a well-managed forest resource, could be a key to sustainable development, providing valuable foreign exchange and employment while protecting natural forests from destruction, degradation and excision.

The ITTA that eventually came into operation was no conventional commodity agreement. It was, in reality, as much an agreement for forest conservation and development as for trade. In effect, it preceded the concerns which featured in the 1987 Brundtland Report and at the Earth Summit in 1992 and its trade components were as much instruments for tropical forest conservation as ends in themselves.

The ITTA, 2006 builds on the foundations of the previous agreements, focusing on the world tropical timber economy and the sustainable management of the resource base, simultaneously encouraging the timber trade and the improved management of the forests. In addition, it contains provisions for information sharing, including non-tropical timber trade data, and allows for the consideration of non-tropical timber issues as they relate to tropical timber.


A unique organization

ITTO occupies an unusual position in the family of intergovernmental organizations. Like all commodity organizations it is concerned with trade and industry, but like an environmental agreement it also pays considerable attention to the sustainable management of natural resources. It manages its own program of projects and other activities, enabling it to quickly test and operationalize its policy work. Other features include:

  • an equal partnership in decision-making, policy formulation and project development between producing members (tropical developing countries) and tropical timber consuming members (mostly temperate developed countries);
  • the active participation of civil society and trade organizations in meetings and project work;
  • the formulation and implementation of projects in producing member countries, using mostly local expertise;
  • frequent meetings of its governing body (the International Tropical Timber Council), meaning a comparatively rapid pace of debate, decisions and action.

What ITTO does

ITTO develops internationally agreed policy documents to promote sustainable forest management and forest conservation and assists tropical member countries to adapt such policies to local circumstances and to implement them in the field through projects. In addition, ITTO collects, analyses and disseminates data on the production and trade of tropical timber and funds a range of projects and other action aimed at developing industries at both community and industrial scales. For more information on ITTO's action program go to ITTO at work, or see the Organization's Biennial Work Programme.

Members may submit project proposals to the Council for review and financing in accordance with the ITTO project cycle. Examples include pilot and demonstration projects, human resource development projects, and research and development projects; the Organization's Action Plan sets out the types of activities that it should undertake in project and policy work. All projects are funded by voluntary contributions, mostly from consuming member countries. Since it became operational in 1987, ITTO has funded more than 800 projects, pre-projects and activities valued at more than US$300 million. The major donors are the governments of Japan, Switzerland, the USA, the Netherlands and the EU.


ITTO's structure

The governing body of the ITTO is the International Tropical Timber Council, which is composed of all the Organization's members. ITTO has two categories of membership: producing and consuming. Annual contributions and votes are distributed equally between these two groups, which are called caucuses. Within each caucus, the dues and votes of individual members are calculated based on tropical timber trade and, in the case of producers, also on the extent of tropical forests within the country.

The Council is supported by four committees, which are open to all members and observers and provide advice and assistance to the Council on policy and project issues. Three of the committees deal with key areas of policy and project work: economic information and market intelligence; reforestation and forest management; and forest industry. These committees are supported by the Expert Panel for the Technical Appraisal of Projects and Pre-projects, which reviews project proposals for technical merit and relevance to ITTO objectives. The fourth committee, on Finance and Administration, advises the Council on matters related to the budget and other funding and administrative issues concerning the management of the Organization. ITTO's organizational structure is shown graphically in it's current Action Plan.

Non-member stakeholders have established two advisory groups to facilitate their participation in the Council and to provide input to the Council's decision-making process. These are the Trade Advisory Group (TAG) and the Civil Society Advisory Group (CSAG).

ITTO's small secretariat of about 35 staff is based in Yokohama, Japan. It is headed by an Executive Director, who is responsible to the Council for the administration and operation of the Agreement in accordance with decisions made by the Council. The Organization also has regional officers in Latin America and Africa to assist with project monitoring and other duties.

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