ITTO identifies causes of trade data discrepancies

3 November 2003, Yokohama, Japan

Illegal trade is only one of the possible reasons for discrepancies between data for the export and import of tropical timber, according to a report that will be discussed this week by the International Tropical Timber Council (ITTC).

The ITTC is the governing body of the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO), an intergovernmental agency promoting sustainable development through the management and conservation of tropical forests and the processing and trade of tropical timber and other forest products. The Council convenes here today to tackle a wide range of issues, including the poor quality of data on the tropical timber trade.

For example, the reported volume and value of timber exported from a country often differs substantially from those reported by the importing country. One possible reason for such discrepancies is illegal trade - smuggling. However, the results of four case-studies carried out by ITTO - in China, Indonesia, the UK and the USA - suggest that many factors are at play.

Discrepancies in the import and export data for tropical timber between China and the exporting countries of Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Myanmar, for example, can arise from several sources, according to analyst Dai Guangcui. These include: the incorrect specification of origin or destination of shipment, particularly since a significant quantity of tropical timber imports to China are trans-shipped through Hong Kong; confusion in the classification of tropical and temperate non-coniferous timber; and differences in measurement standards and scaling methods. Illegal trade is likely to account for some of the discrepancies but it is difficult to assess the extent of this without a more detailed analysis of customs documents in both source and destination countries than was possible under this study.

On the other hand, analysts S.Y. Chrystanto and Imam Santosa suggest that smuggling is the most significant contributor to the very large export-import data discrepancies observed between Indonesia and several importing countries.

When completed next year, the ITTO trade statistics discrepancies study will comprise up to eleven case-studies and will be the largest of its kind ever conducted for the international timber trade. In general, the case-studies completed to date suggest that standardizing the tracking and reporting of forest products trade would have a significant impact on its transparency.

During its session this week, the ITTC will also deliberate on many other issues, including the promotion of sustainable forest management in the Congo Basin, the ITTO Guidelines for the Restoration, Management and Rehabilitation of Degraded and Secondary Tropical Forests, and, for the first time, a biennual workplan that will map out the Organization's work for 2004-2005.

The Council could also provide several million dollars worth of grants towards new projects and activities. It is already funding about 150 field projects in tropical countries to implement sustainable forest management at the field level and provide training to forest managers, loggers and communities throughout the tropics.

Background documents for the session can be obtained from

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