EU to target illegal logging of rainforests

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Series Details Vol.7, No.45, 6.12.01, p9
Publication Date 06/12/2001
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Date: 06/12/01

By Laurence Frost

THE European Commission is planning a new international drive to crack down on the illegal trade in timber from rainforests and jungles.

News of the plans emerged after a meeting between EU officials and environmental campaigners, including a Greenpeace activist who has received repeated death threats for exposing illegal loggers in his native Brazil.

Paulo Adario, who is living under 24-hour armed protection, travelled to Brussels to urge the officials from the Commission's trade, environment and agriculture departments to take action against imports of illegal rainforest timber.

There would be progress "within six months", an EU official said after the meeting, where a coalition of green NGOs presented evidence of illegal logging in South America, Africa and Indonesia.

But the EU executive is resisting the pressure for immediate trade measures, saying that a ban could break World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules. A Commission working document produced for the meeting states that "all attempts to reduce illegal logging must be carried out with the agreement and support from exporter countries".

"What's legal or illegal depends on [Brazil's] national rules," said the same official. "It's not our role to say what should or shouldn't be illegal in third countries."

Instead he said the EU is drafting plans for a multilateral agreement that could eventually pave the way for trade measures against countries refusing to comply.

The response has angered environmentalists, who warn that Brazil's Amazon forest will be destroyed within five to ten years by logging at the current rate of 30 million cubic metres a year. "If you start with a multilateral approach governments like Brazil and Malaysia will just block everything," said Saskia Ozinga of the World Rainforest Movement.

Ozinga highlighted last month's decision by the WTO appeals body to uphold a US ban on shrimps caught with nets that kill giant turtles. "This shows that it's simply incorrect to say international trade rules prevent us from taking immediate action," she said.

The EU currently receives around a quarter of Brazil's exports of valuable hardwoods such as mahogany, already monitored under the UN's Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Illegal logging accounts for 80 of the country's entire timber production, and those who stand in its way are routinely exposed to violence and intimidation, as Paulo Adario knows all too well.

His first death threat arrived earlier this year, just five days after he and other Greenpeace campaigners had delivered film of illegal loggers working in protected Indian reserves to the federal prosecutor.

"Someone phoned my house saying that I deserved to die and I would die," Adario said. "For three nights after that there were cars driving past with people inside them holding guns." Since then, he has been under the constant protection of two armed guards.

A Brazilian parliamentary report last month showed that 23 people have been murdered in conflicts over forestry this year, and 73 have received death threats in Para, the worst affected province.

The European Commission is planning a new international drive to crack down on the illegal trade in timber from rainforests and jungles.

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