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America’s free trade pacts driving illegal timber trade

Antara | 16 June 2006

America’s free trade pacts driving illegal timber trade

First round of trade negotiations with Malaysia conclude tomorrow

Washington, DC - US free trade agreements are accelerating the destruction of tropical forests in Asia and Latin America, according to a report released today by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).

EIA is urging the administration and Congress to enact a law prohibiting entry of illegal timber imports into the US before signing pending free trade agreements with other timber trading nations.

The EIA report, entitled America’s Free Trade for Illegal Timber - how US trade pacts speed the destruction of the world’s forests, documents an alarming increase in US imports of illegal timber via Singapore since the US signed a free trade agreement with that country in May 2003. It also describes how US demand is fuelling an illegal logging crisis in Honduras, with which the US signed a free trade pact last year.

The report’s release coincides with the opening of US free trade negotiations with Malaysia, and the third anniversary of the US and Singapore signing of an environmental side agreement to the US-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (USSFTA), intended to address illegal timber trade. A free trade agreement with Peru, another country with a massive illegal logging problem, is awaiting Congressional approval.

The USSFTA is serving as the model for the negotiations with Malaysia, despite the failure of the US and Singapore to implement the environmental side agreement they signed three years ago. The Malaysia FTA, if approved, will result in yet more illegal timber flooding into the US from endangered, wildlife-rich rainforests.

The US is the world’s biggest importer of wood in the world. According to EIA, US demand drives both illegal logging in developing countries and illegal timber trade because of US failure to ban imports of illegal wood. The administration has failed to act despite an agreement by the G8 nations in July 2005 to prohibit illegal timber imports. The US has also failed to press Singapore to take action against illegal timber trade.

"Unfortunately, US free trade pacts are speeding the destruction of Asian and Latin American forests by failing to prohibit imports of illegal timber," said Alexander von Bismarck, Campaigns Director for EIA’s Washington, DC office. "The US government must enact a ban on illegal timber imports if it is interested in the health of the global environment and the US timber industry."

The EIA report reveals that:

- Singapore remains not only a regional hub of illegal timber trade, but a major center for financing and brokering the illegal timber trade. Singaporean companies also provide shipping services to deliver the illicit products to markets.

- Malaysia is a major recipient of illegal logs and timber from Indonesia with estimates of up to 3 million cubic meters of illegally felled wood crossing the border every year. Malaysia has also refused Indonesia’s request to ban imports of Indonesian sawn timber, despite an Indonesian export ban on all sawn timber products. The report documents the smuggling of illegal Indonesian timber into Malaysia two weeks ago, only miles from the capital Kuala Lumpur, on the eve of the first round of free trade negotiations with the US.

- Malaysia is a major source of illegally logged timber entering the United States. In 2005, the US imported $827 million of timber and wood products from Malaysia.

- Malaysian nationals were central to a $1 billion a year log smuggling operation from Indonesia’s Papua province to China exposed by EIA and its Indonesian partner, Telapak, last year.

The US directly imports over $700 million in timber and wood products from Indonesia, where 80% of logs are illegally cut.

Over $1 billion in losses are incurred each year by the US timber industry due to illegal logging abroad.

 source: Antara News