House of Commons portcullis
House of Commons
Session 2007 - 08
Publications on the internet
Public Bill Committee Debates

Draft European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (2006 International Tropical Timber Agreement) Order 2008

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. David Amess
Austin, Mr. Ian (Dudley, North) (Lab)
Burns, Mr. Simon (West Chelmsford) (Con)
Cash, Mr. William (Stone) (Con)
Fallon, Mr. Michael (Sevenoaks) (Con)
Flello, Mr. Robert (Stoke-on-Trent, South) (Lab)
Hogg, Mr. Douglas (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con)
James, Mrs. Siân C. (Swansea, East) (Lab)
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen (South Thanet) (Lab)
McCartney, Mr. Ian (Makerfield) (Lab)
Mates, Mr. Michael (East Hampshire) (Con)
Moore, Mr. Michael (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) (LD)
Salter, Martin (Reading, West) (Lab)
Smith, Mr. Andrew (Oxford, East) (Lab)
Thomas, Mr. Gareth (Minister of State, Department for International Development)
Williams, Stephen (Bristol, West) (LD)
Wright, David (Telford) (Lab)
Mick Hillyard, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Second Delegated Legislation Committee

Monday 17 November 2008

[Mr. David Amess in the Chair]

Draft European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (2006 International Tropical Timber Agreement) Order 2008

4.30 pm
The Minister of State, Department for International Development (Mr. Gareth Thomas): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (2006 International Tropical Timber Agreement) Order 2008.
It is a genuine pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Amess. I am not sure that we have ever discussed tropical timber, but there is always a first time. The order covers the ratification of the 2006 international tropical timber agreement, or ITTA as it is affectionately known. The agreement was approved on 27 January 2006 and it provides for the governance of the International Tropical Timber Organisation, known as ITTO. The objectives of the 2006 ITTA are to promote the expansion and diversification of international trade in tropical timber from sustainably managed and legally harvested forests and to promote the sustainable management of tropical timber producing forests.
ITTO is a small organisation. Its 60 members represent about 80 per cent. of the world’s tropical forests and 90 per cent. of the global tropical timber trade. It is based in Yokohama, Japan, and here I pay tribute to the generosity of the Government of Japan in hosting ITTO. It was established when there was increasing concern about the fate of tropical forests and when it was recognised that, unless tropical forests could provide a significant income to the countries in which they are found, sadly and probably inevitably, they would be cut down and replaced by agriculture.
One of ITTO’s successes has been to pioneer ways of measuring the sustainability of the management of forests. That has helped to lead to the development of certification schemes. More than 320 million hectares of the world’s forests have now been certified as sustainably managed. Most of those forests are in Europe and north America, where the governance of forests is strong, not least because the institutions, including our own Forestry Commission, are strong.
In Africa and Asia only 0.1 per cent. of forests have been certified as sustainably managed. Problems of poor governance and underinvestment in the capacity to manage and regulate forests have held many tropical developing countries back. ITTO can continue to help to build that capacity with the information, technical guidance and training it provides, as well as with project funding. Since it became operational in 1987, ITTO has funded more than 800 projects at a cost of $300 million.
4.33 pm
Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) (Con): May I say what a pleasure it is to take part in considering this order under your chairmanship, Mr. Amess? Winston Churchill once said that it is better to do something than to do nothing while waiting to do everything, and it is with that mindset that I approach the order today. The sustainable management of the world’s tropical forests should be seen as critical in fighting climate change, protecting the earth’s biodiversity and helping to achieve the millennium development goals.
It is 20 years since the first tropical timber agreement was concluded, yet unsustainable forest management and illegal logging continue to be widespread. The OECD estimates that year on year an area of tropical forest the size of Greece is lost. A report by the European Union on the 2006 ITTA suggests that almost half of all logging activities in regions such as the Amazon, Russia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are illegal. It is also suggested that less than 5 per cent. of all tropical forests are sustainably managed. I would have hoped that after 20 years the global community could have made deeper inroads into those depressing statistics.
The 2006 ITTA demonstrates the difficulties of trying to match north and south aims and objectives into one agreement. It is my contention that the 2006 ITTA attempts to balance the wishes of the developing countries to strengthen their opportunities to trade a natural resource that they have in abundance with the west’s desire to strengthen sustainable management of tropical forests and to reduce illegal logging. For evidence one need look no further than the method by which a member nation’s voting power on the International Tropical Timber Council, the governing body of ITTO is calculated. More votes are attributed to producer nations that export the most tropical timber and to consumer nations that import more tropical timber. At no point in this process is a producer nation’s level of sustainable management of tropical forests or the level of ethical importing by consumer nations taken into account.
Along with my hon. Friends I believe that improving the economy of less developed countries is crucial to lifting people out of poverty. However, the era of irresponsible capitalism is dead and it is time that we promoted sustainable capitalism. Sustainable logging from sustainable forests can play a vital part in diversifying less developed nations’ economies and in turn help lift their citizens out of poverty. That should, however, not be done at the expense of indigenous people who are dependent on tropical forests—40 million in the DRC alone—and the forest ecosystems that could provide opportunities for eco-tourism, and the opportunity for mankind to reverse the damage we have caused to the earth’s climate.
History has shown that the control of large geographical areas of forest for logging has been the reason for wars or sustained conflict in Africa. Unlike mining, logging takes little initial investment to produce very large short-term profits. Wars in the DRC, Ivory Coast and the Central African Republic can be attributed to the fight for control of natural resources, of which timber is one.
I congratulate the European Union on the steps that it has taken to stamp out the importing of illegal tropical timber into member nations. The voluntary partnership agreements under the forest law enforcement, governance and trade programme should be championed but it should also be understood that these form just a small part of solving a much larger problem. If we are serious about fighting climate change, defending the rights of indigenous peoples and helping the development of less economically developed countries, international agreements such as the one we are discussing today must put sustainability at the heart of the institutions they are creating, or in this case building upon. Despite the rhetoric of the objectives of the 2006 ITTA, until power on the ITTC is also derived from sustainability, the impact of unsustainable logging and illegal logging will not change as fast as we want or the world needs.
The 2006 ITTA does little to address the problems to the global environment or to the development of LEDCs caused by unsustainable or illegal logging. Until the ITTO puts sustainability and protection of tropical forests ahead of short-term profits, the aims of the millennium development goals will continue to be difficult to achieve. Despite our good intentions, millennium development goal 7—ensuring environmental sustainability—will not be achievable while the demand for illegal or unsustainable timber from consumer Governments is higher than their desire for ethical and sustainable timber.
Despite the fundamental flaws in the ITTC and the ITTO, good work has been sanctioned and funded. One example is the recently funded project to be carried out by the ITTC that was announced in Ghana during the meeting on the operational modalities of the future work of the ITTC in June this year. Another is the forest seeds management and conservation project to be carried out in Cote d’Ivoire, which aims to research the viability of creating a seed centre to be used for the long-term reforestation of areas of land decimated by over-agricultural activity. There is also the project in Ghana that will study new ways to enhance forest law enforcement.
Improvements to the 2006 ITTA as regards governance, poverty reduction and livelihoods is also warmly welcomed. I understand from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s memorandum on the agreement that we have in no small part to thank it for its involvement in promoting these causes. Conservative Members also warmly welcome the UK’s voluntary financial contributions to the thematic programmes sub-account of around £70,000 per annum.
Without proper funding, the ITTO would struggle to carry out some of the good projects that I outlined earlier. Despite that, the ITTA does not go far enough in rebalancing the demand for more timber importing and the importance of sustainable environmental policy. While I do not believe that the 2006 ITTA has moved the ITTO or the ITTC far enough forward, something is better than nothing. I only hope that the next ITTA vastly advances our ability to truly promote sustainable forestry and logging.
4.41 pm
Stephen Williams (Bristol, West) (LD): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Amess. Normally I speak on innovation, universities and schools for my party. This does mean that a reshuffle has taken place this lunchtime. My hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, who would normally cover this, was unable to attend this afternoon. However, I have an interest in this and tropical forestry within the DRC through my membership of the all-party group on the great lakes region of central Africa.
We broadly welcome the aim of promoting diversification of the international trade in tropical timber, particularly from sustainably managed but also legally harvested forests. When I spoke to an NGO that specialises in this field, it had some reservations about the ITTO, specifically point 8 of the nine-point strategy of the ITTA. One of the purposes is to strengthen
“the capacity of members to improve forest law enforcement and governance and address illegal logging and related trade in tropical timber.”
I have a couple of short questions for the Minister. First, there are the interests of indigenous people. I have met with representatives of the Pygmy and Bantu indigenous peoples from the DRC. Often, these laws and concessions that are being discussed simply do not recognise the interests of the people who live within the forest. Can the Minister give us an undertaking that the order will recognise the interests of indigenous people and will not seek to disfranchise them in any other way?
A second question relates to the definition of what constitutes illegal timber. In the DRC, it is often claimed that the legal review of titles has been used to whitewash the illegal concessions that have been granted after the 2003 moratorium. What plans do the UK Government have to establish a clear definition of what constitutes illegal timber?
Like other hon. Members I was pleased earlier this year to attend the launch by the Prime Minister of the Congo basin fund in Lancaster house. He was jointly launching it with the Norwegian Prime Minister. Norway is the world leader in promoting sustainable forestry in this part of the world. Can the Minister tell us how this order is linked into the aims of the Congo basin fund?
4.44 pm
Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield) (Lab): Thank you, Mr. Amess, for looking after my interests. It is not normal for someone on the Government Benches to speak on these matters, so I want to reassure my hon. Friend the Minister that I shall make a positive contribution.
It is a pity that this debate on renewing this important international agreement is only taking place in a Committee. The issue is as important as the international campaign against drugs. Both are run like organised crime. Both steal billions of pounds of resources. Both cause and feed conflicts between communities and both make it impossible for many countries to govern appropriately.
My experience in working with this Government is that they are one of the few who have taken deforestation over the last decade as seriously as it should be taken. Many of the colleagues we are working with in this group will need into the next decade to take it even more seriously. This is about fighting corruption and organised crime and protecting fauna and flora and indigenous communities. It is also about climate change. The changes we need to make to combat climate change can be achieved only if we protect the world’s forests.
One of the biggest dangers to the world’s forests is illegal logging. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to set out some of the areas where the Government are operating on the ground. The Department for International Development is working in very difficult circumstances, sometimes to the potential danger of our own people on the ground. Whether it is in the Congo, or in Indonesia, Borneo, Liberia, Ghana, or Papua New Guinea, the people engaged in illegal logging do not want to be monitored. They do not want to see a change in circumstances, nor will they easily give up their capacity to bribe people in weak and failing Governments.
Therefore, it is important when we do this work that we set out what we are doing and why we are doing it. It is more than just the signature on an international agreement. It is about practical, day-to-day working with, for example, indigenous communities and communities in conflict, finding ways to resource those communities, first to prevent logging and then to reverse what has happened as a result of illegal logging. We also have to put sustainable programmes and governance in place to assist weak Governments to become stronger, because when they are weak their inability to intervene is palpable. For example, in Indonesia we lose a forest the size of Wales each and every year to illegal logging. That is the extent of what we are trying to tackle internationally. As a country on our own we are doing a great deal to intervene in these areas.
Can my hon. Friend tell us something about the negotiations that are taking place in voluntary partnership agreements? Although they are voluntary, it is the first important step in getting Governments to recognise the need for systematic action against illegal logging, stopping it where it exists, preventing it where it can be prevented and bringing to justice where those who promote not just illegal logging, but criminality. Criminality undermines elected Governments. It prevents local communities from speaking up and speaking out. In Indonesia nearly $2 billion a year is lost to local exchequers which could be invested in health, education, transport, jobs and other opportunities, which are taken out of the country illegally by illegal logging activities.
This is not small beer. This is a huge problem. It is a significant problem and this agreement needs to be able to tackle that. I would welcome my hon. Friend’s comments on how we will progress over the next decade in terms of governance and tackling corruption and organised crime. There are organisations and academics who are apologists for illegal logging. They try to make out that this agreement and agreements like it that are in operation undermine indigenous communities and the potential economy of some of the frailest economies of the world such as that of Papua New Guinea. We should reject those apologists. The truth is that to sustain communities such as Papua New Guinea and the indigenous population, we need a strategy to get rid of those who are illegally logging, stripping and raping these countries, to allow the Government to operate effectively in local communities and to have sustainable development in such a way that the resources come back to the community. The money that is made from logging should be made legally and transparently, and the community should get the benefit from the logging that takes place.
Big economies such as the United States, Russia and China have a responsibility not just to sign agreements such as this, but to take practical action across their own borders to prevent illegal logging activities from increasing imports into their communities. There are many pacts between Russia and China, but each day thousands of tonnes of illegal timber come into China. This is not an anti-China point or an anti-trade point. If we are to have sustainability, countries such as China have to develop their economy on the basis of rejecting the activities of illegal loggers and those who are behind illegal logging, who are international criminals on a grand scale.
I would welcome it if, in responding to the debate, the Minister set out the practical activities that I know the Government are doing. That is important to NGOs. NGOs, by their nature, are independent of Government, and rightly so. They are also very critical of Government and they have the right to be so. We do not want NGOs that simply agree with everything that we do. That is not what an NGO’s role is or should ever be. However, there are occasions on which NGOs should give consideration to the fact that the Government are taking practical steps on the ground to improve the situation. When we do so, they should speak out in support of those initiatives, because that gives us credibility with other nations that are not as quick to come forward to do something about illegal logging. When we can get NGOs speaking up on our side in these matters when that is appropriate, that will help us in the discussions and negotiations that we need to have with our colleagues to ensure that the agreement works not only in terms of people signing it, but in practical, day-to-day terms, so that we stop destroying the world’s forests and undermining indigenous populations, we tackle organised crime, and, in relation to countries that have a marginal position in terms of good governance, we prevent illegal logging from taking a Government down on the basis that they are too corrupt, too weak and too inept to do something about protecting their own flora, fauna and indigenous people. I hope that the Minister will give a positive response to my remarks.
4.52 pm
The Minister of State, Department for International Development (Mr. Gareth Thomas): Let me try to do justice to the contributions from my right hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield and the hon. Members for West Chelmsford and for Bristol, West. If the hon. Gentlemen will forgive me, I shall start with the contribution from my right hon. Friend, who set out neatly the import of the issue that we are considering today, if not the specific agreement before us. As he rightly says, if we do not crack down on illegal logging and help developing countries to protect their natural resources effectively, not only do we risk the continuing challenge of climate change and even greater problems for the international community, but all the progress that we want to see in meeting the millennium development goals will be undermined.
The illegal trade in timber can help to generate and feed conflict in a country. It can provoke increased corruption on occasion in developing countries. Too often, the resources from illegal timber are fed to unaccountable elites when they could be used to fund investment in schools and hospitals. An indication of the scale of the challenge that my right hon. Friend described is that one fifth of all carbon dioxide emissions are caused by deforestation. That gives a sense of the importance of the issue before the Committee.
My right hon. Friend rightly referred to the voluntary partnership agreements, as did the hon. Member for West Chelmsford, who rightly praised the European Community for the leadership that it has given on this subject. I am delighted to say that we have supported it in that process and will continue to do so. The hon. Gentleman generally supported the agreement, but alluded to many of the challenges and to the disappointment of insufficient progress. Perhaps I may offer a slightly more positive story, and draw to his attention the experience of Cameroon, which is the beneficiary of a voluntary partnership agreement, EC assistance and UK assistance. The collection of forest revenue in Cameroon has increased fivefold, and illegal logging has declined dramatically. My right hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield asked for practical examples of the difference that work on governance in the sector has led to. In Cameroon, there is competitive tendering for logging and concessions, and an international independent observer to monitor field-level forest control activities. There is satellite-based monitoring, and public disclosure in newspapers of illegal violations of the rules on timber. All that helps to improve transparency and to protect the trade.
The hon. Member for West Chelmsford rightly alluded to the significance of the agreement, but perhaps there is a broader context. The ITTA is just one small part of the international architecture on forestry. He will be aware of agreements such as the convention on biological diversity, the UN framework convention on climate change, the UN convention to combat desertification, and the work of the World Bank and regional development banks. All have a role to play in tackling the trade in illegal timber.
The hon. Gentleman rightly alluded to the importance of the effort to tackle climate change. At the Copenhagen conference next year, we hope to see a global deal to build on the Kyoto process, which is an important element of the next stage of work in this area. The £800 million that the Prime Minister, when he was Chancellor, set aside to invest in climate investment funds housed by the World Bank, tackling deforestation, helping countries to adapt to climate change and promoting investment in low-carbon energy technologies are three elements to one part of our response to tackle climate change.
The hon. Member for Bristol, West is a member of the all-party group on the great lakes region and genocide prevention, and alluded to the Congo basin fund. Of the £800 million in the climate investment fund, some £50 million has been put in directly to help to tackle governance and sustainable management of forest resources in the Congo basin. Not only will the DRC benefit, but its neighbours that have part of the Congo basin forest in their countries will also benefit. As the hon. Gentleman rightly said, the £50 million that we contributed has been matched by Norway, and we are looking for contributions from a number of other countries.
The hon. Gentleman asked specifically about the rights of indigenous people. One of the changes in the 2006 agreement compared with its predecessor is specifically that community-based enterprise is recognised, which is a direct result of our suggestion for civil society and private sector advisory groups. I hope that that reassures him that the rights of indigenous people will be respected as a result of this agreement. They are certainly being taken into account in our work on the Congo basin forest.
The hon. Gentleman asked a specific question about legality and its definition in terms of the DRC. Some 70 per cent. of titles in the DRC have been revoked using a definition of legality that was developed directly by the DRC Government. If the hon. Gentleman is desperate to see the definition that the DRC developed, I shall be happy to elucidate it for him if he has a word with me afterwards.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Committee has considered the draft European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (2006 International Tropical Timber Agreement) Order 2008.
Committee rose at one minute to Five o’clock.

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2008
Prepared 18 November 2008