Australian Agriculture Minister Tony Burke yesterday promised that his government would make it a criminal offence to sell illegally logged timber. The commitment was first made at the last national elections in Australia, and would involve a series of tests and stringent monitoring to ensure that wood entering the country has been harvested legally, as well as integrating independent audit certification schemes into the verification process.
This last item has recently been under development and the government is currently trying to increase private sector uptake of three of its chosen programmes: the Australian Forestry Standard Ltd, the Program for Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes and the Forest Stewardship Council. Importing companies would also have to fill out a trade description and account for the final destination and projected use of the wood.
Australia already has bilateral logging agreements with Indonesia, China and Papua New Guinea. Malaysia and New Zealand have shown interest in forging similar agreements, and the proposed legislation would be a blanket commitment to enforcing industry best practice standards and stopping illegal trade.
The Asia-Pacific region is particularly rich in valuable – and often rare –softwoods and hardwoods. Illegal logging worldwide as a result of greed, local corruption and resource mismanagement has contributed to a sharp decline in timber stocks, with some species appearing on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species register.
The Centre for International Economics, which was commissioned to report on the proposed project, commented that the new legislation could stop $56m worth of illegal logging globally each year. The Australian Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry said about $400m worth of “suspected illegally sourced timber and timber products” were imported to Australia annually, constituting around 9% of the country’s timber trade, which in turn accounts for around 2.5% of the global trade.
NGOs such as Greenpeace have welcomed the announcement, saying that although Australia had allegedly previously imported $840m of illegal timber, the new law would now send a clear signal. “Unscrupulous logging companies will get the message loud and clear,” said Greenpeace, that “they will have to change their practices.”
A Good Promise for the Forests, Greenpeace
Penalties Promised for Illegal Wood Sales, The Australian