Alhassan Attah, manager of Ghana’s Timber Industry Development Division, responds to comments by Mark O’Brien, head of public affairs at the Timber Trade Federation, and Charles Townsend of SmartWood

The anxieties of the UK Timber Trade Federation over the report of the government’s Environmental Audit Committee, with signals that efforts might be made to influence government procurement policies for timber, will be shared by tropical developing countries exporting to the UK.

The International Tropical Timber Organisation is committed to non-discriminatory trade and the elimination of formal and informal trade barriers. The UK government is a member of ITTO, as is Ghana and more than 50 producer countries.

Ghana continues to introduce measures to implement sustainable forest management. It does this against a background of widespread social and economic hardships of a developing African nation. Nevertheless, it has progressed towards the evolution of a certification system, which has been field tested by independent experts and which is compatible with the guidelines of the ITO and other certification initiatives.

We are not there yet, but having made commitment and progress, with substantial sacrifices, my country must surely view any moves by an importing nation to impose discriminatory practices in order to achieve an environmental halo as neither fitting the realities of the developing world nor guaranteeing desired change.

The claim that consumers will pay more for certified wood, which would somehow generate funds for further improvements in forest management, is not proving to be realistic. Charles Townsend notes that UK sawmills report lack of customer interest in certified wood.

In Ghana we are well aware of the pressures on our remaining natural forest and irrespective of externally devised and idealised concepts of ‘certification’, are working to persuade people that we must conserve our forests for economic, social and environmental reasons. We have been getting welcome help from the UK Department for International Development and other national and international institutions and NGOs/ This is the positive approach. Any moves to insist on performances not yet affordable or attainable by developing countries, coupled with the removal of choice from the consumer, is counterproductive and could be an unacceptable barrier to the trade of developing nations.

On a lesser point, Mr Townsend writes that “many of the well-known tropical species are not available from certified forests” but that “numerous not traditional species” are. This does not bear close examination. Most commercial tropical forests comprise a mixture which is likely to range from well-known to commercially unknown species. Implementation of sustainable forest management in Ghana includes the use of a conservation index to limit extraction of more popular species to encourage the use of less well-known woods.