Monday, 19 November 2007

U.S. Illegal Timber Ban Tightens. But What Next

U.S. Illegal Timber Ban Tightens, But What Next?

Source: The Jakarta Post - November 14, 2007 By Windu Kisworo, Washington DC

Despite ongoing enforcement initiatives, illegal logging is still continuing in most of Indonesia's forests. A 2007 report from the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) estimated that all the forest in Indonesia might be gone within the next 15 years.

At the same time a report in the Stern Review of the Economics of Climate Change estimates that deforestation contributes 18.3 percent of global carbon emissions. Accordingly, enforcement initiatives to solve these intertwined challenges should involve both producer and consumer countries.

Indeed, combating illegal logging has been a concern of timber consuming countries as well, including the U.S, the biggest importer of global timber products.

Is illegal logging contributing to this? It is inherently difficult to tell, but one must suspect so. While the U.S. trade data indicates that about 1,570 shipments of sawed timber was imported from Indonesia between November 2004 and November 2006, worth some US$30 million, UNEP estimates that 80 percent of Indonesia's total timber exports are from illegal sources. The conclusion is difficult to avoid.

On Oct.14, the U.S. House of Representatives conducted a hearing on an amendment to the Lacey Act. This amendment extends the prohibition of illegal imports to include timber imported to the U.S.

Witnesses from various sectors, including environmental organizations, trade and timber industries, and governments represented various different interests from environmental impact to unfair competition to importers of legal timber. A recent study by the American Forest and Paper Association has suggested that this unfair competition depresses prices of wood products by between 7 to 16 percent.

The Lacey Act amendment contains provisions that would reinforce domestic enforcement in supplier countries like Indonesia. First, it gives the right to the U.S to detain any person (including a corporation) who imports any plants taken in violation of any law or regulation of any supplier state that protects the plants.

The sanctions consist of forfeiture (seizing the illegal product), civil penalties (monetary fines), and criminal penalties. The amendment to the Lacey Act is expected to reduce demand for illegal timber from producer countries.

Second, the amendment requires an importer to declare the species of any plant, a description of the value of importation, the quantity, and the country of origin. It promotes a more transparent procedure that would support the enforcement efforts both in consumer and producer countries.

Finally, the Lacey Act amendment will strengthen law enforcement cooperation between the U.S and the country of origin's authority, including Indonesia, at every stage of the timber trade. In any case, the country of origin can provide evidence in a way that will support ongoing prosecution in the U.S.

Indonesia's situation played prominently in the hearings. It was consistently addressed in the most crucial debates at the hearing. The hearings touched on the level of illegal logging in our country, and the value of U.S timber imports from Indonesia.

The hearings also raised critical questions on the effectiveness of Indonesia's law enforcement efforts to stop illegal logging. In 2006 alone, the U.S spent $7 million on initiatives to combat illegal logging in Indonesia. This amount was complimented by the $13 million in private sector investment in 30 different projects all over Indonesia. Additionally, Indonesia and the U.S. signed a memorandum of understanding to combat illegal logging on Nov. 20, 2006.

Indonesia should capitalize on this momentum in the U.S. in its efforts to combat illegal logging. Indeed, Indonesia has long been called on by consumer countries to enact more pro-active measures to ban illegal timber. Still, challenges in enforcement remain.

One of the important issues addressed by the amendment is determining whether imported timber is illegal. Though it is critical for Indonesian authorities to determine the legality of exported timber from Indonesia, a crucial legal issue will emerge if the U.S. authorities find that the evidence provided by Indonesian authorities is unreliable.

Accordingly, the above problem should be addressed within the framework of cooperation between the two countries. Under this framework, both parties, through multifaceted efforts including cooperative law enforcement, information sharing, and technical assistance programs, should work together to improve Indonesia's ability to identify and confiscate illegal timber. Through such improved capacity building, a determination of illegality by the Indonesian government would carry much more weight in international circles.

More importantly, considering the long supply chains used by international smugglers of illegal timber to mask its illegal origin, enforcement efforts should also be integrated into regional and multilateral cooperation and agreements. This may be included in trade agreements, for example.

The current U.S.-Peru Free Trade Agreement includes provisions to combat illegal logging under its Forest Sectors Governance annex.

Finally, if the memorandum of understanding between the U.S. and Indonesia to combat illegal logging is going to be effective, it should also adopt the above multilateral framework.

Following the development of the Lacey Act amendment and the U.S.'s current efforts to combat illegal logging, enforcement will become a must for Indonesia. Whoever is involved in illegal logging in Indonesia will soon have to accept the fact that illegal timber entering the U.S. will be seized, and the U.S. importers will face sanctions for being involved with illegal logging.

The writer, a researcher at the Indonesian Center for Environmental Law, is a law fellow of the Louis B. Sohn Fellowship for the Human Rights and Environment, the Center for International Environmental Law, Washington DC.