ITTO must do more to combat illegal timber trade and enforce forest laws: Brazil's Minister of Environment and Forests

27 May 2002, Yokohama, Japan

It is essential that international organizations such as the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) have the capacity to work against predatory forest exploitation, illegal logging and illegal trade, according to Dr Jose Carlos Carvalho, the Brazilian Minister of Environment and Forests.

Dr Carvalho was speaking during a visit to ITTO headquarters, which, he said, signalled Brazil's "firm wish" to strengthen the Organization's role as a major instrument for the promotion of sustainable forest management.

He said that Brazil had taken a number of steps in recent years to improve its forest-related institutions and forest law enforcement. For example, the Brazilian Institute for Environmental and Natural Renewable Resources (IBAMA) was starting to implement Brazil's new National Forest Program. Forest law enforcement was also being strengthened at the state level: 20 states now have their own forest police responsible for enforcing forest laws.

Dr Carvalho said that in recent months forest law enforcement authorities had seized some 30,000 m³ of mahogany harvested illegally from indigenous lands. Such actions were essential to protect legal operators, he said.

"Honest enterprises should not be penalised by the existence of illegal operations. We have to provide an investment environment that preserves the competitiveness of those companies that operate within the law."

However, despite Brazil's best efforts, deforestation continues in the Amazon. According to Dr Carvalho, financially competitive alternatives to agriculture are needed if deforestation is to be minimized.

"Currently, the only way in which tropical countries can obtain reasonable remuneration for their highly biodiverse forests is through predatory use," he said. "Developed countries decry tropical deforestation, but neither governments nor markets currently remunerate tropical countries for their biodiversity."

To help redress this, the Brazilian government was establishing a centre for biotechnology research and development in the Amazon, said Dr Carvalho. This centre, which will open later this year in the Amazonian city of Manaus, will be the largest of its kind in Latin America. Its role will be to search for and help develop forest biodiversity products in the pharmaceutical, cosmetics and food industries. Ecotourism was also being promoted through a US$200 million project supported by the InterAmerican Development Bank.

However, Dr Carvalho said that developing countries still struggled to compete for international markets against subsidised forestry and agriculture in many developed countries.

"The United States and the European Union alone subsidize their agricultural sectors by about US$300 billion a year," he said. "That's why I find the rhetoric of many developed countries about 'poverty alleviation' in developing countries somewhat strange. International trade is dominated by the largest economies and often acts in contradiction to this anti-poverty rhetoric. It is increasingly obvious that without some fundamental changes in the economic order, the term 'sustainable development' is an empty slogan."

Dr Carvalho praised ITTO for funding two new projects in Brazil worth US$1.3 million at its last Council Session (held earlier this month in Bali, Indonesia). One project will facilitate the introduction of a forest concessions regime in Brazil's national forests, and another will harmonize ITTO's criteria and indicators for sustainable tropical forest management with those of the region's Tarapoto Process.

"International cooperation is essential to complement national efforts to achieve sustainable forest management," he said. "ITTO is one organization capable of backing up its words with action, but it can and should do more to support sustainable forest management and certification and to combat illegal logging and illegal trade. I am here [at ITTO headquarters] to launch an appeal for these fundamental forest issues to be placed at the top of the Organization's agenda and for more resources to be put at its disposal."

For more information contact: Alastair Sarre, Editor & Communications Manager,