Last month the Peruvian government committed to significantly improve measures to stop illegal logging and associated trade in its timber sector. Key elements of the announced package include: amending export documentation requirements to improve traceability of all timber flows; conducting timely official post-harvest field verifications in order to assess – before any shipment leaves the Peruvian port – that the timber being exported from the country has been legally harvested; and implementation of penalties against those involved in the illegal trade.
“It is critically important that these commitments to prioritize the real monitoring and tracking of the full supply chain are implemented in the timeframe agreed - many by the end of March 2017. They have already been delayed for years at the expense of the Amazon forest and the people who depend upon it,” said Lisa Handy, Forest Campaign Director for the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). ”We will continue to monitor the implementation of these measures.”
These and other measures were announced by Peruvian officials in Lima during the first week of November at the meeting of the Sub-Committee on Forest Sector Governance, a body created by the United States-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement (TPA) and in charge of implementing its Annex on Forest Sector Governance (Forest Annex). Further information can be found in the U.S.–Peru joint statement about the meeting, as well as a media statement released November 15 by the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR), which points to some of Peru’s progress towards implementing the commitments of the Forest Annex, but stresses that “important challenges remain to ensuring timber legality throughout the supply chain.”
Several of the measures announced coincide with what the Peruvian and international civil society and indigenous organizations have been requesting from the Peruvian government for years in response to well-known issues in the timber sector. These challenges were documented in Peru’s response to a February 2016 U.S. request of legal origin verification, regarding a timber shipment that arrived to the U.S. port of Houston, on the Yacu Kallpa vessel, in January 2015. The result of the verification demonstrates that nearly all the timber in the shipment was illegally sourced. In a report released in August by the U.S. Timber Committee, the U.S. government requested a series of actions from the Peruvian government to address the issue.
“We appreciate the signal being sent by the Kuczynski government, that they will not continue the trend of hiding behind false paperwork and are choosing to deal with the problem instead of trying to eliminate the evidence that documents it,” said Julia Urrunaga, EIA’s Peru Programs Director. “This will help both exporters and importers to have greater certainty about the legality of the products and, therefore, promote the trade. We welcome these announcements and encourage Peru to apply similar standards also for the timber being traded inside the country.”
Despite high levels of illegality within the Peruvian timber sector, limited action had been taken by Peru or importing countries until September 2015 when the U.S. government, following the lead of Peruvian Customs, seized a shipment of almost 3,600 cubic meters of timber upon its arrival to Houston. The government then began an investigation in the context of the U.S. Lacey Act, a law that prohibits the imports of illegally logged timber.
While the World Bank states that the level of illegality for the Peruvian timber sector is around 80%, recent investigations conducted by the Peruvian customs office (SUNAT) into individual shipments, in coordination with the Peruvian body that oversees the forest sector (OSINFOR), have documented illegality rates of over 95%. The main destinations for the Peruvian timber exports are China, Mexico, the United States, the Dominican Republic, Europe, and Australia.
As heads of state convene in Lima this week for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders Summit (November 18-20), U.S. President Obama and Peruvian President Kuczynski are scheduled to address shared concerns about this illegal timber trade. In parallel, the USTR, Ambassador Froman, has also identified the same topic as a priority for his bilateral meeting with Peruvian counterparts. The illegal timber trade, especially Peruvian exports of illegally logged timber, were a priority in the discussions of the APEC preparatory meeting held in Lima in August, of the Experts Group on Illegal Logging and Associated Trade, EGILAT. Other APEC country destinations for Peruvian timber include Canada, Korea, Chile, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Japan, Russia, Philippines, Malaysia, and Singapore.
It has now been proven that the only effective way to guarantee legal origin for Peruvian timber exports is to compare the point of harvest declared by the timber holder with the data from field verifications produced by OSINFOR. This is the methodology developed by EIA’s 2012 investigative report “The Laundering Machine” to document the Peruvian export of illegally logged CITES species, cedar and mahogany, to the United States between 2008 and 2010. Until now, the exporters have only been required to declare point of harvest for the export of CITES species, which has allowed massive amounts of illegal timber from the Amazon to be exported from Peru, unchecked, in the last few years.
Since 2014, Peru’s customs office SUNAT – with the support of Interpol and the World Customs Organization – has been implementing a special operation called “Operation Amazonas,” where exporters are requested to submit documentation of point of harvest and SUNAT cross references it with the field verification reports produced by OSINFOR. For the shipments covered under Operation Amazonas, SUNAT and OSINFOR have documented a consistent illegal origin of over 90% of the timber. The announcement just made by the Peruvian government means that the procedures applied for “Operation Amazonas” will become the norm, and that the legal origin of the timber must be proven, as opposed to relying on documents that have been plagued with fraudulent data.
Illegal logging not only brings environmental destruction, but it also fosters corruption and organized crime that has been responsible for human rights violations and the assassination of local stakeholders, indigenous leaders, and public officers who take a stand against it.