Promote trade in sustainably produced timber - ITTO

20 July 2004, Interlaken, Switzerland

Council Chair Ms Jan McAlpine. Photo: seco

Positive support from importing countries and consumers of forest products from sustainably managed tropical forests can improve the sustainable management of those critical forests and help reduce deforestation, according to an official of the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO).

“Negative campaigns targeting tropical timber may instead undermine long-term sustainability and not achieve their intended objectives,” said Ms Jan McAlpine, the current Chair of the International Tropical Timber Council, ITTO’s governing body.

She was speaking prior to the Council’s 36th session, which started here today. The Council comprises representatives of 58 tropical timber exporting and importing countries and the European Community. All members have committed to working together to increase the international trade of tropical timber derived from sustainably managed sources.

“We are very concerned about the loss of natural tropical forests, the poverty of many people living in or near such forests and the threat of extinction of the wildlife in them,” said Ms McAlpine.

“It is important for people who use tropical timber products to understand that restrictions on tropical timber trade actually discourage efforts to promote sustainable forest management. Unless natural forests are able to generate significant revenue for their owners and residents, they will be replaced by other land-uses, such as the cultivation of soybeans, oil palm and other crops.”

A better approach, said Ms McAlpine, is to encourage sustainable forest management through a variety of incentives, including market incentives.

Among the measures available to the private sector are voluntary codes of conduct for industry, providing new technologies – such as GIS and satellite remote sensing – for use by tropical forest governments, the certification of sustainably managed forests, and the ecolabelling of products so that consumers who purchase those products can be reassured that they are derived from sustainably managed forests.

“However, many tropical timber countries lack the capacity to immediately implement sustainable forest management in natural tropical forests to enable them to certify their forests,” said Ms McAlpine.

This week the Council will hear a report on a way to give countries credit for their efforts to achieve sustainable forest management - a ‘phased approach’ to certification, in which the first step is assurances the timber was legally acquired and produced.

“ITTO was one of the first international organizations to address the important issue of illegally harvested timber and has several projects addressing this issue,” said Ms McAlpine.

ITTO has also embarked on an extensive study of export-import data discrepancies with the voluntary cooperation of 6 producing countries and 4 consuming countries representing some of the largest and most extensive tropical forests on the globe. The Council will also receive a report on progress on this study this week.

“This and other work being undertaken by the Organization, including its project work, will help those producers who wish to obtain certification to acquire some of the basics needed to get it – and so hopefully help them to increase their market share in importing countries,” said Ms McAlpine.

“It is important that markets remain open to tropical timber in the meantime,” she added.

“Otherwise, countries have no incentive to protect these forests or to manage them sustainably. Ultimately, that will be bad for forests, the people and wildlife who live in them and disastrous for all of us.”

The Council Session is being convened at the Conference Center of the Casino Kursaal in Interlaken, 20–23 July 2004. Issues to be taken up include recent ITTO studies on forest law enforcement, trade discrepancies and phased approaches to certification. A panel discussion comprising representatives of the tropical timber trade and civil-society organizations will recommend action on the part of the Council and ITTO to address problems of forestry law enforcement and governance. The Council’s technical committees will review the Organization’s project program, and the Council will also consider a range of new project proposals for possible funding.

Jan McAlpine is Chair of the International Tropical Timber Council in 2004 and Senior Forest Advisor at the United States Department of State.

For more information contact: Alastair Sarre,

See the Earth Negotiations Bulletin coverage of the session at