India third-largest importer of illegally logged wood: Study


Hindustan Times, New Delhi

India is the third largest importer of the illegally logged timber in the world, shows a study by the International Union of Forest Research Organisations, a world-wide collaboration of scientists and research institutions working on forestry sciences. 

With an annual import value of over Rs 40 billion, the country accounts for close to 10% of the global illegal wood trade. 

The study, ‘Illegal Logging and Related Timber Trade’, released at the ongoing global meeting of United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Cancun, Mexico, says almost one-third of tropical timber traded worldwide might be coming from illegal forest land conversion. 167 countries are discussing global mechanisms to protect biodiversity of the planet in the meeting. 

According to the report, 42% of the total roundwood and sawnwood traded globally, with an annual value of Rs 427 billion, is harvested illegally. The top producers of illegal timber are the countries in South East Asia and Amazon such as Indonesia, Myanmar, Cambodia, Brazil followed by the Russian Federation and Papua New Guinea. The largest consumer of illegally harvested wood is China with an import worth Rs 223 billion per year followed by Vietnam that imports illegally harvested wood worth Rs 52 billion.

Illegal logging is one of the key drivers of deforestation across the world, harming the environment and causing loss to the government exchequers. It also endangers biological diversity and aggravates climate change. According to the study, in some parts of the world organized forest crime is extremely violent and has also been associated with the financing of wars and conflicts.

Due to required timber legality verification in other developed countries, timber trade has shifted to markets such as China and India, where less stringent regulation is in place, says the report. The economic growth in these two countries is also driving the demand for illegally harvested timber. 

From 2006 to 2013, the import volume of illegal wood products by China, India and Vietnam increased by more than 50 percent whereas the illegal import volume slashed by one-third for the US and one half for the EU, respectively, which have put in place stringent verification process for legality of timber in the past few years. 

“Forestry crime including corporate crimes and illegal logging account for up to $152 billion every year, more than all official development aid combined”, said Erik Solheim, Head of UN Environment.

China imports illegal timber from all tropical forest regions and Russia while the major source of illegal timber for India is Southeast Asia. “Given their huge domestic markets and China’s large capacity to process wood products for exports, it is extremely difficult to substantially reduce illegal logging and related timber trade at the global level without engaging these two countries,” says the study.