Historic inter-governmental pledge will combat illegal logging

The combat of illegal logging has taken a major step forward with the signing of the first ever international declaration to stop corruption in the forestry sector by a group of East Asian governments.

Ministers at the East Asia Ministerial Conference on Forest Law Enforcement and Governance accepted what the World Bank describes as an unprecedented and historic declaration committing their countries to combat illegal logging, associated illegal trade, and other forest crimes.

“Forest law can not be effectively enforced in the absence of good governance,’ said World Bank Country Director for Indonesia, Mark Baird. “Good governance begins with strong political will, demonstrated by solid and consistent commitment at the highest level of government”. In Indonesia alone, the government loses an estimated US$ 600 million a year through unpaid royalties, reforestation funds and export taxes. This is four times the combined spending of central and local government in the forestry sector, and also twice that spent by the Indonesian government on subsidised food programmes in 2001.

Effective cooperation at all levels from sub-national to the international level is crucial, as emphasised by the new agreement. There is considerable hope that this can be strengthened following what were described by Nigel Sizer, Director of Asia Pacific Forests Program, as very frank, honest, and open discussions of problems that have been taboo in inter-governmental debate about forests in the past.

The three-day conference in Bali, Indonesia brought together 150 participants from NGOs, the private sector and government institutions representing a number of African and Latin-American countries as well as G-8 and EU members. Under the new declaration it was agreed that national efforts would need to be intensified as well as the strengthening of bilateral, regional and multilateral collaboration to tackle forestry crime.

The main problem in the region is Indonesia, home to more rainforest than all the other East Asian states, which, under its last government vowed to open up more rainforests to logging (see related story), and admitted it could not control recurring extensive haze produced by illegal burning (see related story). It is believed, however, that the new administration of President Megawati Sukarnoputri is taking a more active role in combating logging than her predecessor with this new agreement.

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