Ghana, EU clinch deal to crackdown on illicit timber trade
Lagos (AFP) Sept 3, 2008
The European Union on Wednesday inked a landmark deal with Ghana to fight illegal timber exports from the west African country, the EU said.
The agreement signed in the Ghanaian capital Accra, on the sidelines of an international forum on the effectiveness of aid, would stop timber illegally logged in Ghana from entering the European Union market.
Around 60 percent of logging across Ghana in recent years has been illegal, according to the World Bank.
"Illegal logging has been responsible for rampant deforestation in the west African nation," said the EU.
The deal is the first of a series the EU is planning with various African countries, among them Cameroon, Gabon and Liberia.
Ghana has undertaken to ensure that all timber exported from the country is fully certified as clean.
For its part, Europe, which consumes more than half of Ghana's timber exports, will ban entry to any shipment of Ghana timber that is not verified, audited and licensed.
"For many years, Europe has talked the talk of saving the world's forests, but demanded increasing volumes of cheap wood imports, providing profitable markets for illegal wood from very poor countries," Ralph Ridder of the European Forest Institute (EFI) said.
"Now European consumers are increasingly sensitive to global deforestation," he said.
Jade Saunders, another expert with EFI, told AFP that although the system might take a couple of years to be fully operational, it was promising.
"The system is quite credible and the EU will ensure that our customs will stop any shipment of timber that is not audited," she said.
Timber, Ghana's fourth export earner -- after gold, tourism and cocoa -- rakes in around 400 million dollars (275 million euros) per year for the country.
Ghanaian experts say logging and poaching, among other human activities, have shrunk the country's tropical forest cover from 63,400 square kilometres (24,500 square miles) in 1960 down to about 13,500 square kilometres, or 25 percent of their original size.
The pace of forest depletion gave the authorities a wake-up call and the country is now recording success regulating logging through a four-way revenue sharing system, from which communities benefit with five percent of the proceeds.
The deal reached on Wednesday commits Ghana to coming up with transparent timber tax collection systems and making sure that all its laws in the industry are respected and implemented.
The agreement is expected to provide Ghana with an edge in the EU market.
"Consumers, companies and governments should become aware of the relationship between price and the impact on the environment and developing economies of what they buy," warned Ridder.
"If you look for the cheapest product, you may well be getting illegal wood, with all the environmental and social damage that that entails."
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