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BAN-boozled: New report exposes institutionalized timber trafficking in Ghana

With all eyes on Ghana this week as the country hosts delegates from throughout West Africa for a meeting organized by the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to discuss the rosewood crisis that continues to devastate the entire region, a new report from the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) shows that Ghana itself faces a harrowing rosewood problem of its own. BAN-BOOZLED: How Corruption and Collusion Fuel Illegal Rosewood Trade in Ghana reveals how despite a comprehensive ban in place since March 2019, the dry forests and rural communities of Ghana are still the victims of rosewood plundering. EIA estimates that since 2012, over 540,000 tons of rosewood – the equivalent of 23,478 twenty-foot containers or approximately 6 million trees – were illegally harvested and imported into China from Ghana while bans on harvest and trade have been in place. EIA’s investigation documents a massive institutionalized timber trafficking scheme, enabled by high-level corruption and collusion in the forestry sector.

Ghana occupies a key role in the global fight against illegal logging, as one of the first countries to have signed a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with the European Union (EU) in 2009. Ten years later, Ghana is poised to become the second country in the world, after Indonesia, to issue Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) timber licenses, thereby enabling all its licensed timber products to automatically meet EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) legality requirements, allowing for entry into the EU market. Additionally, Ghana is considered an important role model for other VPA countries, particularly in Africa, which are implementing forest governance reforms of their own.

On paper, Ghana has taken significant steps to curb illegal rosewood logging and its related trade with the imposition of a series of species-specific bans since 2012. However, in practice, these on-and-off bans have been routinely evaded and flouted by traffickers. Fraudulent use of “salvage permits”; misdeclaration of timber species; use of corrupt “escorts” to deal with control points; pre-fixed auctioneering of seized stockpiles; forging of official documents; and invalid and retrospective issuance of CITES permits, are all among the various tricks used by Ghanaian and Chinese traffickers to carry out their illicit commerce and profiteering.

EIA investigators discovered intricate networks of high-level corruption and collusion that have effectively annihilated efforts to end rosewood poaching. Traffickers told EIA investigators that officials from the Forestry Commission, at the local, regional and the national level are complicit in the scheme. A trafficker mentioned that Mr. Nana Kofi Adu-Nsiah, Executive Director of the Wildlife Division for the Forestry Commission and responsible for signing CITES export permits, even receives a percentage of the value of the rosewood exported. Indeed, EIA also discovered a CITES permit for a rosewood shipment, signed by Adu-Nsiah, that was issued after the timber was unloaded in the Chinese port of Ningbo (Zhejiang Province), in flagrant violation of the international Convention. According to EIA’s investigation, more than two years after the CITES Appendix II listing for rosewood (Pterocarpus erinaceus) came into effect, Ghana’s rosewood exports to China have in fact increased and the country does not comply with the Convention’s requirements.

“Illegal rosewood logging and trade have devastating impacts on Ghana’s forests and the communities that depend on them. After the fifth ban was instituted, our team found evidence of institutionalized trafficking that echoes alarms raised by civil society, community leaders, and Ghanaian media,” stated Lisa Handy, Director of the Forests Campaign at EIA-US.

The meeting in Accra presents an excellent opportunity for Ghana and other West African countries that have been victimized by China’s insatiable and unchecked demand for rosewood to address the crisis cooperatively and comprehensively.

EIA recommends that in order to stop the illegal timber “boom and bust” moving from country to country, rosewood trade should be suspended at the regional level and coordinated enforcement operations between producing and importing countries should be carried out. It is essential that all countries work together to avert this ongoing crisis – focusing on compliance with existing CITES rules, and ensuring that concrete steps are taken towards full public transparency and traceability regarding rosewood production and trade.

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