Forest groups call on Oz to ban illegal timber import

The Jakarta Post: August 16, 2010

Indonesian environmental activists have called on Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard to honor an election promise to ban the import of illegal timber. The Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) said an Australian ban on the import of illegal timber would help curb illegal logging and go toward cutting Indonesia's carbon emissions. Last month, the group wrote to Gillard, asking for strict measures against illegal timber imports.

Walhi's Muhammad Teguh Surya said the ban was a must not only for Australia, but for the US and the EU, which had already prohibited illegal timber traded in their domestic markets. "We ask Australia to adopt the policy because it could act as a point of distribution for illegal timber from Indonesia," he said. Australian Forestry Minister Tony Burke said his government would check the sources of imported timber and its legitimacy. Anyone breaching the regulation would be punished.

In 2007, former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd from the Labor Party, now led by Gillard, promised his party would ban the trade of illegal timber products, but never honored the election promise. Teguh said if the Gillard administration bans the import of illegal timber, it would support Indonesia's effort combating illegal logging.

"To eradicate illegal logging, Indonesia must tighten its law enforcement, while other countries must help stop the illegal timber trade," he said. Norman Jiwan from Sawit Watch also welcomed Australia's commitment to ban import of illegal timber. "Both Indonesia and Australia stand to benefit," he said.

However, Norman also questioned the effectiveness of the plan, saying that "even if a ban is enforced, illegal loggers can claim the origin of Indonesian timber to be from Malaysia, Thailand or China before shipping it to Australia," he said. According to Norman, illegal logging was still rampant because the illegal logging syndicates remain untouchable. The Forestry Ministry has announced an aim to reduce the number of illegal logging cases to 12 per year. Illegal logging causes an estimated Rp 30 trillion (US$3 billion) in state losses each year. In April, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono ordered the Judicial Taskforce to probe illegal logging syndicates.

Lee Tan, the Asia Pacific Coordinator of Australian Conservation Foundation, said it would be morally corrupt for Australia to continue trading in illegal timber. "Illegal logging fuels corruption and denies forest nations billions of lost revenue each year. It is an organized crime that should neither be tolerated nor supported," she said. She added that Australia had invested a significant amount of its development assistance to forest nations, including Indonesia, to promote good governance and to build institutional capacity to improve forestry management and law enforcement.