One-fifth of EU timber imports are illegal

Posted: 22 July 2008

Almost one-fifth of wood imported into the European Union in 2006 came from illegal sources, with the UK being the second largest importer, a new investigation has found.

The UK imported 3.5 million cubic metres of illegal wood, which included importing the biggest quantities of furniture, finished woodproducts, sawnwood and plywood of all EU states. says a report from WWF. Only Finland brought in more illegal timber.

Illegal logging
Illegal logging
Illegal logging for paper industry and forest clearing for Palm oil plantation. TESSO NILO Plantation Riau, Sumatra. Credit: © WWF-Canon / Alain COMPOST
In 2006, the EU imported between 26.5 and 31 million cubic metres of illegal wood and related products, equal to the total amount of woodharvested in Poland in the same year. Most of Europe's illegal timber comes from Russia, Indonesia and China.

WWF presents these findings as further evidence of the need for a strong European law to prevent illegal wood entering EU markets.

EU laws

Julia Young, Manager of the Forest and Trade Network at WWF-UK, said: "Illegal logging reduces the protective function of forests whichfrequently increases the risk of natural disasters such as floods and landslides and leads to deforestation, one of the main causes for climate change. Illegal logging also pushes down wood prices leading to major economic losses for the producer states, industries and local communities.

"As the UK clearly plays a major role in fuelling this illegal trade, the Government needs to ensure the EU urgently introduces legislation to prevent illegal timber entering the EU - and thereby help protect the world's last remaining forests."

The report showed that some 23 per cent of wood-based products imported from Eastern Europe, 40 per cent from South-East Asia, 30 per cent from Latin America and 36 to 56 per cent from Africa originated from illegal or suspect sources. Major importers were Finland, UK, Germany and Italy.

This highlights the ineffectiveness of the existing voluntary scheme to tackle illegal logging, the EU Forest and Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Licensing Scheme. Voluntary agreements have been drawn up between exporting and importing countries to tackle the trade.

However, even if all voluntary agreements currently negotiated by the EU with partner countries under the licensing scheme were concluded, only 10 per cent of illegal wood would be excluded by EU markets. No such negotiations are planned with countries like Russia and China.

Main traders

The report traces ten main trading routes for illegal wood. The main trader is Russia with 10 million cubic metres of illegal wood transferred to EU countries in 2006. Half of this wood arrived in the European market through Finland, where it was processed into pulp and paper and then exported to other EU countries.

Illegal EU timber imports from Asia
Illegal EU timber imports from Asia
While the second main trader is Indonesia, China has recently become a major player having tripled its exports of wood and paper products to the EU between 2003 and 2006 - 32 per cent suspected to be from illegal sources.

WWF now urges the introduction of an EU law to guarantee that only legal wood is sold in the European market. Traders should have to provethe origin and legality of wood and a penalty should be introduced for any violation. it says.

The European Commission is expected to make a proposal on this issue in the next months.

The report is based on a study of the German market, and was carried out by WWF Germany.It is available here.