Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160-179)



  160. We have a picture of these ships coming across from one side of the river to the other side, filled with logs and those logs being sold from—
  (Mr Ford) From my perspective, I have an export permit issued by the appropriate authority, confirming that a) the specimens are lawfully acquired and b) the trade would not be detrimental to the conservation of that species. If there is evidence that there is corruption within that organisation that is allowing illegal trade to take place, I have two courses of action open to me. My first course of action is to go back to the management authority. If someone has this evidence, I would pass that on to the exporting manager and ask for an explanation. I can almost guarantee that what will happen is either they will come back and say, "Yes, we have sacked that man and that permit is not valid", or they do not answer. What do I do then? I have no firm evidence that this trade is illegal. All I have is allegations.

David Wright

  161. That timber then enters the UK?
  (Mr Ford) I could go to the CITES secretariat and get them to investigate or I could use our embassy to negotiate and find out what is going on, but my powers are limited in those circumstances because unless I have clear evidence that the management authority are saying that this permit is invalid it is going to be very difficult for me to turn down that, unless I can find some other conservation reasons for refusing entry.

Mr Challen

  162. Can you take evidence from NGOs and use that in the same way as the other cases?
  (Mr Ford) Yes. They can present evidence to me and I have to present that evidence to the authority. I am 3,000-odd miles away. I do not know what is going on in that country. I do not know what the other side have got to say. I only have one side of the argument. Any decision I take can be taken to judicial review by the trader. This is how CITES works. The trader has to have confidence that, when he goes to a country, he gets a certification for his shipment. That document is acceptable worldwide. If there is evidence that a country is not implementing the Convention properly or whatever, I can refer the matter to the CITES secretariat. They can investigate. They will report to the CITES Standing Committee. The Standing Committee, if it is satisfied that there is a serious problem here, can decide that there will be no trade with that country until it gets its act together. We have done it with the UAE. We have done it with Egypt not long ago and Fiji and several other countries have had bans imposed upon them until they get their house in order. That is the international forum for getting these problems addressed, but it is not quick.

  163. It does not sound very "robust" either, in terms of the time it takes to work the system.
  (Mr Ford) Unless I can say categorically that that permit is invalid, it is going to be very difficult for me to refuse that shipment, unless there are some other conservation grounds for me refusing it.

  164. Can you expand a little more on the point you made about including more species for monitoring processes and shifting more species into presumably appendices one and two and the impact that would have on the environment? You talked about increasing the proportion of species that were being monitored by the CITES process. I thought you meant that you would slide more species into appendices one and two.
  (Mr Ford) No. What I said was to make greater use of the facilities available within CITES by listing species on appendix three. Any range state can say, "I have a problem in managing this trade. I want to make use of the facilities available within CITES to ensure that this trade is lawful." They can put the species on appendix three. That requires all the range states to issue a certificate of origin. The exporting Member State has to say that that export is lawful. The other Member States have to certify that it came from their countries. By doing that, you have a means of documenting what trade is taking place and what trade is lawful.

  165. At some point presumably some species will have to move into appendix two?
  (Mr Ford) They may do. There is a process for doing that. If a range state or other Member States for that matter is persuaded on the evidence produced by the appendix three certificate that that trade may be detrimental, they can put proposals to the conference of parties for those to be listed on appendices two or one.

  166. Why not expand the scope of appendix two to more species? It seems to be a much more formal, regulated process and much more intensive.
  (Mr Ford) Yes. You could expand the scope of appendix two but you cannot do it unilaterally. You require a two-thirds majority vote for all the Member States to put a species on appendix two. Some proposals will be well supported; others will not. There have been proposals to list mahogany, for example, on appendix two and they have failed on several occasions, primarily as a result of the opposition from the range state. You have to look at it from their perspective. They have their own forestry and management schemes in place and they would see a listing on appendix two as a failure and a criticism of them. It would be a serious loss of face for them. They would see this as the first step towards banning trade in their natural resource as well.

  167. The note from Greenpeace[6] suggested that Nicaragua and Guatemala both have mahogany in their area and they are pushing for CITES appendix two rating. Are we supporting that kind of move?

  (Mr Ford) If those countries came forward with a proposal, we would certainly support it.

Joan Walley

  168. Mr Wright was asking you about what action could be taken. What note is taken of the advice note which came up from the European Commission, advising that timber coming from Brazil in connection with that suggesting that Member States should be taking a precautionary approach until further advice had been received. How did that square with the first part of the replies that you gave to Mr Wright just now?
  (Mr Ford) That advice was not available to us. We are aware of the advice. It is advice that we will take into account in any subsequent decision. Each case will have to be considered on its merits in the light of all the facts as we know them at the time.

  169. Does that apply to the Brazilian mahogany that came into Birkenhead?
  (Mr Ford) We did not have that advice available to us at the time that shipment came into Birkenhead.

  170. Had that advice been available at the time that timber came into Birkenhead, could that have enabled you to have taken action which otherwise was not taken?
  (Mr Ford) I do not think it would be appropriate for me to comment any further because this is a matter currently before the courts.

Mr Jones

  171. You said in your memorandum that the Government does not want to deny trade opportunities to developing countries where certification schemes are rare and poverty abundant. Is not that a let out and is that not a brake on the very systems that Mr Rollinson was describing he had hopes were going to occur?
  (Mr Andrew) That is a bit of a dichotomy, but that is being addressed through the concept of producer groups. We are working with WWF and others on ways that we can carry on trading with poor producing countries and at the same time comply with the government policy. The way we are planning to do that is to have a system of variants in our specifications, whereby we have a basic specification which will probably say something like, "The timber must be from a legal source", but if bidders want to offer a higher specification in terms of sustainable forest management, they can. Providing we spell out what we mean by that in our specification, we would have the option of accepting either offer. We have not worked this fully through yet so it is not at the moment a robust proposal.

  172. If, as we frequently say in all sorts of other documents, we say that exploiting non-sustainable forests, particularly range forests, is damaging how is it consistent to believe that and, at the same time, make sure that we are going to continue to trade in non-certificated forests from poor countries? By implication, we are damaging the future sustainability and future economy of that country.
  (Mr Andrew) There would be some sort of independent verification that there was no damage in that respect. The trade would not be accepted if it were destroying ancient virgin forests. There would have to be some commitment from the producer groups to continuous improvement, to work towards higher levels of sustainable forest management. That would have to be independently monitored for that to work. We would not engage in that sort of process if—

  173. Friends of the Earth have produced a table which you probably have seen, based on trade flows in 1999. According to their table, Britain, despite all the glowing commitments that we have made, is the largest importer of illegal tropical timber in the European Union.
  (Mr Andrew) I have no means of refuting that or confirming it. The information that Friends of the Earth base that on is not known to me.

  174. They have worked it out from the trade flows in 1999.
  (Mr Andrew) It is possible. I am willing to accept that that is a reasonably accurate assessment, but I cannot confirm it.
  (Mr Rollinson) It is important to put the figures in context in that the UK is a huge importer of wood, the fourth or fifth largest importer in the world, because we unsustainably removed our forest cover over several thousand years and, despite attempts to put some of it back, we are only producing something of the order of 20 per cent of our own needs.

  175. I thought of that reason in private session and it was pointed out to me that this is a table of the proportion of illegal tropical timber, as opposed to legal tropical timber, so it does not quite explain it.
  (Mr Rollinson) About 90 per cent of the wood that is imported into the UK is coniferous from north America, Scandinavia or Russia. There is a relatively small proportion of the whole trade that is in tropical hard woods. I am not trying to say that those figures are incorrect but there are issues about the definitions of how you define what is illegal. You have to exercise some kind of value judgment and there is an assumption that if it does not come with a piece of paper that says it is legal therefore it is illegal. That may not necessarily hold up but it is important to put the figures in context. Most of what we import is not tropical hard wood.

  176. I am asking why Friends of the Earth have come up with a table which shows us, Britain, as the worst importer of illegal timber in the European Union and we have been praising ourselves for the last couple of hours about all our commitments, but we should judge ourselves by what the output is rather than the input. The output looks pretty bad, according to them.
  (Mr Rollinson) How do you tackle that problem? The Government has been putting in place a number of measures to try to do just that. One is to introduce a policy of timber procurement and make sure that that sticks. What we found over the last year or two is that that has been very difficult. The other is to try to support capacity building in some of the other countries who may be producing illegally logged timber to ensure that they are able to put in place their own governance procedures. You will be aware of the UK memorandum with the Indonesian government, trying to tackle just that issue.

  177. We would want to look at that information and wonder why other European countries have apparently a better record than us. Do other European Union countries have regulating systems to monitor imports that we do not have?
  (Mr Andrew) Not that I am aware of.

  Mr Jones: Is it the pattern of trading with certain countries that we overwhelmingly conduct differently which is the reason? Is it that there are particular countries that we trade with which are more likely to have illegal tropical products than other countries?

David Wright

  178. Is there a massive, latent demand in the UK?
  (Mr Andrew) As far as I am aware, there is not a lot of statistical information available to measure this problem. I cannot explain how Friends of the Earth came up with that particular table and those statistics. We do not refute it because it could be true. From the procurement point of view, we have been talking about procurement of timber for government departments and those statistics presumably refer to the UK trade as a whole.
  (Mr Ford) In the absence of any controls over the import, it is difficult to present figures. How would you know they were illegally importing?

Mr Jones

  179. I am presenting somebody else's figures. I was hoping that you would come up with various reasons why they exist.
  (Mr Andrew) I cannot offer a reason why we appear to import more illegal timber than, say, Germany.
  (Mr Rollinson) One of the reasons is that we import a lot more wood.


6   See Minutes of Evidence, HC 792-i, Ev 1-5. Back

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