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An Inside Look at Latin America’s Illegal Logging – Part Two

This post was co-authored with Eduardo Arenas Hernández Jr. and Ana Domínguez, who work for Reforestamos Mexico.

This is the second post in a two-part series on illegal logging in Latin America, with key insights coming from the Forest Legality Alliance’s recent event, “Legal Forest Products and International Trade: A Regional Perspective.” The first installment focuses on the causes of illegal logging in Latin America, while the second highlights potential solutions to this problem.

Latin America faces significant challenges in addressing illegal logging. As we noted in our previous blog post, several Latin American countries struggle when it comes to ensuring the legality of their forest products. Plus, there are claims that wood from countries with illegal logging problems is imported to Mexico to be processed and re-exported to other nations, including to the United States.

Combating Illegal Logging in Latin America

Participants at the Forest Legality Alliance’s (FLA) recent event in Mexico City, “Legal Forest Products and International Trade: A Regional Perspective,” discussed the causes of Latin America’s illegal logging. They also identified potential ways to boost forest protection and sustainable management in the region. These strategies included the following: 1. Simplifying and streamlining administrative procedures, while also ensuring that key safeguards are strengthened in the allocation and approval of logging permits, forest management plans, operative plans, transportation permits, and other harvesting-related activities.

  1. Establishing close partnerships between product buyers and suppliers. Take Taylor Guitars: Over the past 10 years, the company established direct trade relationships with forest cooperatives in Honduras, with help from two NGOs, Fundación Madera Verde and GreenWood. Taylor purchases legally harvested mahogany directly from the cooperatives. The company even re-designed some of its guitar models to make it easier for Honduran communities to cut wood using basic equipment. Fundación Madera Verde and GreenWood facilitate the relationship and provide technical assistance to the cooperatives.

  2. Increasing the capacity of forest communities to generate value-added timber products in more efficient ways. This action could eliminate another step in the supply chain and increase the chances that communities would benefit directly from the forests. The more complex the supply chains, the more room for corruption. This strategy could include trainings in using and maintaining machinery, technical skill-building, financial management, and administration in order to prepare communities to deal directly with buyers.

  3. Enacting better public policies, including rules that promote the use of legal forest products and enable the production of goods sourced from sustainably managed forests. These policies could include public procurement policies that prefer certified wood or products of verified legal origin, taxation structures that provide incentives for better management and are simple to administer, and greater transparency in the allocation of forest resources.

  4. Reducing the demand of products from illegal sources in national and international markets. Legislation like the U.S. Lacey Act and the European Union Timber Regulation can accomplish this goal. For example, the Department of Justice recently fined the Gibson Guitar Company for using illegally sourced woods from Madagascar and India. Enforcing federal laws like the Lacey Act can deter illegal logging activity throughout the world.

Participants at the Mexico meeting also discussed proposals to address illegal logging in specific countries. For example, attendees proposed expanding Mexico’s law enforcement efforts to cover not only timber producers, but the buyers (e.g. factories, sawmills, etc.) that create the demand for illegal timber. For Peru, participants suggested increasing the participation of civil society organizations in the forest sector, including enlisting indigenous organizations to monitor forest activities in their territories. Some participants also started a dialogue to work together to better understand the trade of legal and illegal forest products between Central America and Mexico.

Tools to Limit Illegal Logging

The event concluded with a discussion of currently available initiatives and resources that can both promote the demand of legal timber and paper products and equip supply chains to deliver legitimate products. These include the European Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade plan; the use of modern technologies to track wood throughout the supply chain; and some of the FLA’s resources. The Alliance’s Risk Information Tool, for example, provides users with background information about producer countries so that they can assess illegal logging risks. The Lacey Act Declaration Tool guides users through filling out the Lacey Act Declaration form, while the Procurement Guide provides a general overview of key issues buyers of forest products should know about. For a larger list of available tools and guides, please visit the FLA website.

Moving Forward

Utilizing available tools and engaging in discussions like those had at the recent FLA event are good first steps towards curbing illegal logging. Many actors are devoting resources to resolve illegal logging in the region, and opportunities for inter-regional dialogue among many stakeholders are always useful.

To that end, the FLA will continue its work in Latin America. We plan to host or co-organize more outreach events throughout the coming year, and we will be releasing two case studies on how businesses can manage the risk of sourcing illegal wood in Latin American products. By continuing the discussion and information-sharing, we can hopefully begin to make the region’s forests safer for both trees and people.

Read Part One of this series.

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