An unusual gathering of the tropical timber trade and civil society has urged ITTO and its member states to take aggressive steps towards combating illegal logging and illegal timber trade.
The Workshop on Illegal Logging and Illegal Trade, held over two days in conjunction with the 36th Session of the International Tropical Timber Council, was attended by seven representatives of the tropical timber trade under the banner of the Council's Trade Advisory Group (TAG), and eight representatives of civil-society organizations within the Council's Civil Society Advisory Group (CSAG).
In a report issued by workshop participants to the Council, the TAG and CSAG agreed that illegal logging and illegal trade are major concerns.
"This problem has serious social and environmental impacts, undermines honest industry, discourages investment in responsible forest management, and diminishes forestry's contribution to social and economic development."
"For this reason, both TAG and CSAG were very pleased that the [Council] formally recognized the problem in 2001 and has begun to take steps to address it."
However, the two groups agreed that ITTO and its member states could do much more to combat illegal logging and illegal trade.
For example, it recommended that additional support be given to ITTO's existing initiatives on trade statistics' discrepancies, and that country-level projects be encouraged to promote transparency in the tropical timber trade and access to information.
According to co-chair Dr Andy White, of the non-governmental organization Forest Trends, full transparency and easy access to all forest trade data is crucial if illegal trade is to be reduced and eliminated.
"Transparency is a first step," he said. "We're not going anywhere without at least trying to get good data."
The workshop also recommended three actions that could be taken by ITTO in the short term. These were:
- Conduct an international conference on the transportation of timber products, involving representatives of financial institutions, customs, shipping, and transport sectors, with the view of identifying weaknesses which have allowed for illegal trade;
- Conduct an international conference on indigenous and other community forestry, forest tenure, policy and other regulatory barriers to management and trade, and their relationships to illegal logging and illegal trade; and
- Strengthen and expand the ITTO project window to finance private-sector/civil society partnerships to advance sustainable and legal forest management and trade.
The Council subsequently made about US$440,000 available to implement these three recommendations.
According to Dr White's co-chair, Mr Barney Chan of the Sarawak Timber Association, the greater understanding of the transport sector that would arise from the first of these short-term recommendations would be particularly useful.
"This is a link in the chain that has not really been scrutinized in the context of forest law enforcement, and if we can study it now in detail we might gain some very useful insights," he said.
Dr White was supportive of the concept of the joint CSAG/TAG workshop, but cautioned that members of both groups would be taking a great interest in the extent to which its recommendations were addressed by Council.
"Success will be measured on action by the Council," he said. "The people who participated [in the workshop] on both sides appreciated the opportunity to engage on this issue but are wary about not being taken seriously. There is a strong appetite in both groups for action."
The Council's Chair, Ms Jan McAlpine, expressed her delight with the outcomes of the workshop.
"This has been an historic event," she said. "That two groups with often contrasting views could sit down and jointly propose such strong and substantial actions is a credit to them. It is also a credit to the Council to move so quickly to implement the most immediate of the recommendations."
Ms McAlpine said that the workshop could lead to more rapid action to combat illegal forest and timber-trade activities.
"Sometimes it takes civil society and trade to lead governments in contentious areas," she said.
"By tackling these often divisive issues head-on and agreeing on a common agenda for action by ITTO, the workshop could potentially greatly assist governments to increase cooperation in this area."
Contact the ITTO Secretariat (firstname.lastname@example.org) for a copy of the workshop report. For more information on the workshop contact: Dr Andy White, email@example.com, Mr Barney Chan, firstname.lastname@example.org
See the Earth Negotiations Bulletin coverage of the session at http://www.iisd.ca/forestry/itto/ittc36/