Press release / March 11, 2019

New analysis shows a worrying surge in exports of tropical timber to Vietnam and China from the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2018

Sunday 10th March 2019 – Ahead of a debate today by MEPs on the EU’s Voluntary Partnership Agreement with Vietnam, a new analysis has revealed a worrying surge in exports of tropical timber from the DRC to Vietnam and China in 2018.

The new 2018 trade documents,analysed by Global Witness, underline the importance of both countries prioritising the introduction new import controls.

According to the data, which has been cross referenced with other sources, exports of timber from the DRC to Vietnam more than doubled from 2017 to 2018, from just under 40,000 tonnes of round wood to nearly 90,000.

China’s imports also increased significantly after a decrease in recent years, with imports back to 2015 levels, at around 40,000 tonnes in 2018.

Whilst these export figures are still lower than the volumes exported from other tropical timber countries the significant increase show a worrying trend which is highly concerning because of the large amounts of illegal or high risk timber shown to have been coming out of the DRC in recent years; and because Vietnam and China, the biggest importers of DRC timber, do not yet have effective systems in place to prevent imports of illegal timber. There are currently no obligations on importers or traders to exercise due diligence in either country.

These tropical timber imports have surged despite the EU undertaking a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with Vietnam – where the country agreed to introduce import controls on timber.

But the details of these controls have not yet been published and there are already concerns that they may not be rigorous enough to tackle the imports of illegal timber.

These latest trade figures show the urgency of the action needed by Vietnam and China to tackle the trade in illegal timber. - Jo Blackman, Head of Forest Investigations, Global Witness
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DRC Timber Exports from 2014 - 2018

Global Witness recently published a briefing which includes recommendations for Vietnam on the introduction of import controls drawing on lessons from similar legislation in the EU and US.

China has been presented with feasible options to regulate its timber imports, such as the ones identified in an EU-China joint study. However, a year on, China remains the world’s largest timber market without a prohibition of illegal timber imports. Global Witness’ research in 2018 show at least half of China’s tropical logs coming from countries with alarming risk illegalities.

As shown by repeated investigations by Global Witness, tropical timber from DRC is at high risk of having been logged illegally.

According to a report in published in 2018, Norsudtimber – a secretive company based in Liechtenstein, and the single largest owner of logging concessions in the DRC’s forests – is illegally harvesting timber on 90% of its sites, with government complicity. The majority of this timber is being exported to Vietnam.

Jo Blackman, Head of Forest Investigations at Global Witness said:

“These latest trade figures show the urgency of the action needed by Vietnam and China to tackle the trade in illegal timber.

“Until new controls are introduced, both countries will continue to be key destinations for illegal timber from tropical rainforests with disastrous consequences for forests, the climate and the communities that reside in them.

“MEPs discussing this today in the European Parliament should focus on the importance of securing this action from Vietnam, and the European Commission should ensure that Vietnam fulfils its commitments and adopts effective import controls.”

/ ENDS

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Jo Blackman, Forests Advocacy and Policy Team Leader

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Notes to editor:

  1. Interviews: Are available in English and French on request. Please e-mail [email protected] or call 0044 7828 505 758 to arrange.
  2. Briefing: Global Witness recently published a briefing which includes recommendations for Vietnam on the introduction of import controls drawing on lessons from similar legislation in the EU and US.
  3. About Global Witness: Global Witness investigates and campaigns to change the system by exposing the economic networks behind conflict, corruption and environmental destruction.
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