Forest exports under closer watch for illegal logging

Exporting forestry products is going to get a lot tougher as governments around the world look to clamp down on the illegal harvesting of lumber, a compliance specialist yesterday warned local stakeholders.

President of Compliance Specialists Elizabeth Baldwin is part of a US team currently educating stakeholders on the implications for local forestry exports under the Lacey Act, which governs the importation of lumber and value added wood products into the US.

The Act was amended in 2008 to include clauses to prevent trade in illegal lumber and products derived from illegally harvested plants.  It places the burden on US importers to ensure that lumber and the forestry products they buy come from legally harvested timber and that a declaration is made to substantiate their legality. Offences could result in seizure of products, fines or imprisonment.

According to Baldwin, the European Union last week passed its version of the Lacey Act while Canada was considering doing so. Japan, she noted, has had its in place for some eight years now. “This is here to stay and it’s just going to get worse. There are groups talking about DNA testing (of trees) as evidence, that every shipment has a DNA test so they could say exactly where it came from in the forests,” she explained.

As an international wood buyer, Baldwin said she wanted exporters to make it easier for her to buy their products adding that “information will make business.” “I need to understand that it came from this concession, that its harvest licence is legal … I need to be able to see the entire chain of production and transfer to make me feel safe.”

She urged the local producers to put together packages to market their businesses, including such things as whether they have their own concessions, the best practices they follow and evidence that their businesses are legal.

Baldwin added that the government needs to make it easy for buyers to do business with local exporters by making its laws, regulations and standards readily available. According to Baldwin, who also authored a book on the Lacey Act, the administration and associations could create grading rules matching international standards and make them easy to understand.

In response to a question about a minimum level of documentation, she said there was no base level since it was a matter of “insurance” for the importers and it was better to have more rather than less.

A participant noted that removal and export permits are provided by the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) once they check to see the necessary regulations were followed, and queried whether these would be sufficient for the importers. To this, Baldwin said as a new buyer she needed to have this explained to her by the government, noting that there could be a website spelling out what makes Guyana’s lumber legal. Additionally, she said she would need a way to double check the legitimacy of such documents.

US Department of Agriculture representative Gary Lougee, who also made a presentation on the Act, said that aiding US importers in the data collection would enhance the marketability of local products, result in less risk for the importers and quicker transactions all round. According to Lougee, the less work the importers have to do the more attractive the products would be to them.

He pointed out that misdemeanours under the Act are punishable by forfeiture of goods, one year imprisonment and a fine of US$100,000 (US$200,000 for corporations).  Felonies are punishable by five years imprisonment and a $US250,000 fine (US$500,000 for corporations).

Lougee noted that the US authorities would not be going after local companies should due diligence be insufficient but rather the US importers.

The Lacey Act is the oldest wildlife protection statute in the US, having been enacted in 1900 to combat among other things the impact of commercial hunting and the killing of birds for the feather trade. Under the 2008 amendment, the Act makes it unlawful to trade in any plant that is taken, possessed, transported, or sold in violation of the laws of the US, a US state, Indian tribe, or any foreign law that protects plants.

The US team is expected to meet interested stakeholders today at 9 am at the Church View Hotel, New Amsterdam and at 2 pm at the Anglican Parish Hall, Skeldon. Another meeting is also scheduled for tomorrow from 10.30 am at the Arabian Atlantic Hotel, Anna Regina.

The meetings are being facilitated by the GFC and USAID. (Kwesi Isles)

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