EIA accuses Indonesia and China of world’s biggest smuggling racket

The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) has called for the US and Canada to ban imports of Chinese flooring products made from merbau wood as, it says, they have been illegally exported to China in violation of Indonesia's export ban.

A joint report, “The Last Frontier”, by the EIA and Telapak, an Indonesian environmental group, has revealed that the US and Canada are leading importers of the products. It highlights the fact that illegal timber smuggling from Indonesia is a billion dollar trade, threatening the last remaining intact tropical forests in the Asia-Pacific region.

It also exposes the international crime syndicates behind the massive looting of merbau trees from Indonesia’s Papua Province. Merbau, a valuable hardwood used mainly for flooring, is being smuggled out of Papua at a rate of around 30,000 cubic metres of logs every month, the report says.

China’s rapid economic boom is the reason given for it becoming the largest buyer of illegal timber in the world.

The report finds the illegal supply chain involves the collusion of the Indonesian military, the involvement of Malaysian logging gangs, and the exploitation of indigenous communities.

Allan Thornton of EIA said: “Indonesia and China signed a formal agreement over two years ago to cooperate in tackling the trade in illegal timber. So far these words have not been matched by actions. The smuggling of merbau logs between Indonesia and China violates the laws of both countries, so there is a clear basis for action. The US and Canada should also act to ban the import of illegal timber as they are the ultimate destination for much of the merbau flooring.”

The majority of merbau logs stolen from Papua are destined for the Chinese port of Zhangjiagang, near Shanghai, where they are cleared through customs using false Malaysian paperwork to disguise their true origin, in violation of Chinese law, the report claims.

The logs are then transported to Nanxun, China’s main centre for the manufacture of wooden flooring, from where they are then exported to markets such as the US and Canada.

Over 70% of Indonesia’s original frontier forests have been lost and an area the size of Switzerland is cut down every year. Last July, President Bush announced the Initiative Against Illegal Loggin to try and help developing countries stop logging. Despite this the trade goes on.

M. Yayat Afianto of Telepak said: “Papua has become the main illegal logging hotspot in Indonesia. This massive timber theft of Indonesia’s last pristine forests has got to be stopped.”

By David Hopkins

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