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“War on Timber” in Gabon: It Is Time to Win It

Time to Win the War on Timber in Gabon

Over the past months, Gabonese authorities have quietly but decisively started to crack down on illegal logging and related trade in their forests. Their efforts will be broadcast today – as we celebrate International Day of Forests, in the documentary Green Eden: the War on Timber. The film presents the level of illegality that has plagued the Gabonese timber sector in great detail. It also presents how organized the “timber mafia” is, and how pervasive the corruption has been for years.

Illegally harvested timber from Gabon is ultimately shipped and sold by traffickers to the main international markets: China, the EU and the US. The documentary follows a team of determined government officials who are deeply committed to and engaged in cracking down on the timber mafia in the country, and who are leading what could be the most important government–led transformative change in the Congo Basin forest in recent history.

Will these few resolute and mission-focused officials prove successful in putting an end to a system that involves the highest spheres of power and that has gone unchallenged for years? While their efforts show tremendous promise, the outcome is still far from certain. What can be said right now is that consumer countries must offer critical support in stopping the illegal trade in order to bolster the Gabonese effort and help them to achieve their ambitious goals.

Illegal logging driven by international trade is not a “curse” of tropical countries, but rather the result of an inadequate international market structure – lack of transparency, immense unchecked volumes, and multi-continent supply chains – that more often than not reward the bad guys or, at least, allows their crimes to persist unsanctioned.

To change the deal, demand side actors have to step up. In regulated markets like the EU and the US, importers have to make sure their supply chain is free of the companies sanctioned by Gabonese authorities. Competent authorities should take responsibility to make sure this is the case and, if not, apply real sanctions with real consequences, for real crimes. In unregulated markets, like China, specific bilateral cooperation with the Gabonese authorities should be developed or consolidated in order to guarantee that the timber unloaded in Chinese ports is of legal origin.

Bilateral verification mechanisms, developed between China and African countries under the auspices of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), should be replicated and amplified. Linking processes and mechanisms like this with the robust enforcement efforts demonstrated on the ground by Gabon are exactly what is needed to stop illegal trade and give the forests a chance. Work like this offers real inspiration and hope as we reflect on this International Day of Forests.

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