Stop importing illegal timber, US tells Rudd

Sydney Morning Herald: Tom Arup: December 15, 2009

ELEVEN members of the US Congress have written to the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, urging him to fulfil an election promise to ban imports of illegally logged timber.

The Congress members - 10 Democrats and an independent senator, Joe Lieberman - also say action to combat illegal logging is needed to ensure that ''criminal activity'' does not undermine plans to reduce carbon emissions from avoided deforestation in developing countries.

''Only through the combined efforts of the world's major consumer nations will we triumph over this pervasive problem and we look forward to working with your Government to achieve our mutual goals,'' the letters read.

The letters also state the members of Congress were encouraged by the Rudd Government's 2007 commitment to ''source forest products from sustainable forest practices and ban the sale of illegally logged timber imports and we look forward to the implementation of those policies''.

Timber logged illegally is conservatively estimated to be worth $10 billion globally a year. Ten per cent of all timber imports into Australia is from illegal logging, worth $400 million a year and mainly sourced from Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Pacific islands.

The US recently amended its wildlife trading laws - the 100-year-old Lacey Act - to make importing illegally logged timber a criminal offence.

The ALP promised in the 2007 election it would ''seek to ban'' imports of illegally logged timber, but this year the Forestry Minister, Tony Burke, approved a change to the policy to instead ''promote the trade'' of legal timber.

Mr Burke said yesterday the first step in combating illegal logging was to identify legally logged timber and develop certification schemes.

The Government has signed a number of bilateral agreements with countries such as Indonesia, PNG, China and Malaysia to developed such certification schemes.

''How you then restrict the sale of illegally logged timber, including whether you go down the path of the Lacey Act, are options canvassed in the regulatory impact statement that was released in October,'' Mr Burke said.

The regulatory impact statement found banning illegal timber would impose large costs on importers and increase timber prices in Australia.