¦ Illegal logging has reduced by 22% since 2002.
¦ In Indonesia 40% of harvesting is illegal, but illegal timber output is down 75%.
¦ The UK has led the way in tackling illegal logging.
¦ China is analysing its role in the illegal timber trade.

Illegal logging has reduced by 22% globally since 2002, according to a new report by UK-based think-tank Chatham House.

Illegal logging and related trade, which was published last week, says that consumer pressure, legal restrictions by importing countries and media attention have all contributed to the fall.

The report says that the illegal trade remains a problem, but in the five timber-producing countries and seven consumer and processing countries it covers, the impact of measures to curb it has been “considerable”.

The 12 states represent around 20% of illegal timber production and 50% of illegal wood trade.

The biggest documented falls in illegal timber production in the past decade have been in three of the world’s most heavily forested countries: Indonesia, where it has dropped by 75%, the Brazilian Amazon (54-75%) and Cameroon (50%).

Illegal imports to the two processing countries – China and Vietnam – and five consumer countries – the UK, France, Netherlands, Japan and the US – covered by the study have fallen by 30% from their peak in 2004.

Government response

The report found that the response of governments in the five producer countries – Brazil, Cameroon, Ghana, Malaysia and Indonesia – was improving, but that “relevant laws, regulation and policies remain poor”. Brazil scored highest, it said, thanks to a major overhaul of policies and laws, but generally there was too much focus on enforcement rather than legislative frameworks to ensure a long-term reduction in illegal activity.

“Illegal logging has gone down because of increased enforcement but the policy response [of producer countries] has not kept up,” said the report’s lead author Sam Lawson. “These governments have not put in regulations necessary to detect illegal logging.”

Ambiguity of legislation was also a problem in some producer countries, although this was improving, often as a result of work surrounding Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPA) with the EU which promote and help fund development of sustainable forest management and timber production.

Timber tracking regulations were also generally weak, although Brazil had recently introduced an “impressive and sophisticated system” and Indonesia and Ghana were making improvements.


Despite it being more of a focus, forest law enforcement could also still be more rigorous in the five countries, the report said. Prosecutions and fine collection remained poor. For example, in Brazil the value of fines increased eightfold between 2003-2007, but only 2.5% were collected and only 5% of estimated illegal production was seized.

The Chinese and Vietnamese government responses on illegal logging were improving, but still lagged behind those of producer and trader countries. China has commissioned a study into its role in illegal timber trade, but neither country had legislation to prevent import.

The study found that in Vietnam, buyers’ enquiries about the legality of timber were common and growing, but Chinese companies did not think ensuring timber legality would contribute to their competitiveness.

UK action

In the five consumer countries, governmental response to illegal timber had shown “considerable improvement”, with the UK and the Netherlands receiving the highest scores and Japan, which imports the highest per capita amount of illegal wood, the lowest.

However, according to the report, annual imports of illegally-sourced wood products by the seven processing and consumer countries are still large, amounting to more than US$6bn in 2008.

Of the five importer countries, it states that the US still brings in the most illegally-sourced wood, but China’s imports are more than twice as much as all five of theirs combined.

The report also says that all consumer countries should make importing and selling illegally-sourced timber an offence, as it is under the US Lacey Act and just passed EU legislation.

Mr Lawson said that the findings of the report were encouraging, but also highlighted the scale of the illegal timber problem.

“It was so unbelievably bad [in Indonesia] before, that it can reduce by three-quarters and still be very bad,” he said.

He also pointed out that 40% of Indonesian harvesting (as opposed to timber production) is still illegal and a “big problem”.

But he told TTJ that the Chatham House findings should spur even greater efforts on the issue. “This is the strongest case ever for action on illegal logging,” he said. “We’ve shown that you can do something about it, it does make a difference and it is cost-effective.”

To download a copy of the report click here