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EU Helping Forest Degradation, WWF Says

DW staff (jb)November 23, 2005

EU countries are contributing to the destruction of forests in less wealthy nations because of its massive imports of illegal timber, the conservation watchdog group, the World Wildlife Fund said this week.

Is the EU helping to ruin rainforests around the world?Image: AP

Calling Britain "the biggest importer of illegal timber in Europe," the Swiss-based World Wildlife Fund blasted EU countries Thursday for trading in illegal timber that is leading to the loss of forests in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

"The EU is probably importing a substantial and increasing quantity of illegal timber from all regions," the WWF said in the report released shortly before a EU ministerial meeting on the issue Tuesday in Brussels. "As a result, the EU is responsible for around €3 billion ($3.5 billion) of the global €10–15 billion in lost revenue due to illegal logging each year."

Greenpeace in Frankreich gegen Urwaldzerstörung
Activists blocking illegal timberImage: AP

The report argues the EU imports about 20 million cubic meters of illegal timber a year particularly from forests that lie in the Amazon Basin, the Congo Basin, East Africa or the Baltic States.

The report particularly singled out Britain, saying that it was responsible for the loss of 600,000 hectares of forest -- more than twice the size of Luxembourg -- each year in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The report added that about 28 percent of timber -- or 2.2 million cubic meters -- that arrives in the UK is from trees should not be cut down.

The UK is followed by Finland, Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands as the biggest EU importers. On the other hand, Finland and Sweden are the countries with the highest amount of paper and timber made from illegally logged wood - with 5.1 million and 2.6 million cubic meters respectively.

Depriving the poor of income

WWF experts studied trade between EU nations and countries in the Amazon Basin, the Congo Basin, East Africa, Indonesia and Russia and also the Baltic states which are now EU members.

The illegal logging that feeds the trade was depriving local communities of their livelihoods while fueling profits to international companies involved in the trade, the report added. It particularly threatens forests in Africa and Indonesia over the next 10 years.

WWF Logo
WWF report: EU must tighten laws

The practice of illegal logging involves forest poachers cutting down trees, in violation of national conservation measures and outside the control of governments, the report detailed. The wood is smuggled out to another country before going on the world market.

The WWF is recommending that the EU introduce a ban on the imports of illegal timber instead of current policy favoring voluntary agreements between its 25 members and producer countries which "falls far short of the measures needed," WWF officials say.

"While the aim of the regulation is to prevent illegal timber being imported into the EU, it is neither mandatory, nor does it prevent illegal timber being imported via third countries," the report said.