Impacts of Policies to Eliminate Illegal Timber Trade

Lead Author: Dr. Ed Pepke

Publish date: 05.01.2015


Illegal timber trade stemming from illegal logging has tremendous social, economic and environmental consequences. Illegal logging negates the intent of sustainable forest management, often causing or leading to forest degradation and deforestation—outcomes that can devastate forest dependent communities. Such activity is also linked to habitat destruction and species extinction. In addition, illegal logging results in huge losses in assets on, and revenues from, public lands, as well as losses in taxes and royalties within developing countries. The global trade in illegally harvested timber is highly lucrative and comparable to the production value of illegal drugs. Recognizing the multiple and exorbitant costs of illegal timber trade, governments and trade associations are increasingly implementing policies to ensure the legality of imports and exports.


Establishment of policies aimed at stemming international trade in illegally logged timber started in the United States (Lacey Act Amendment) in 2008, followed soon thereafter by Europe (European Union Timber Regulation), Australia and other countries including China. These policies have had positive impacts, in part by sensitizing players in wood and paper supply chains to the effects of illegal logging and timber trade, and also by bringing the force of law specific to timber trade regulation. But without wider participation of governments in the effort to stem the flow of illegal timber, the actions of the United States, European Union, and others are likely to be ineffective. The reality is that if only legal timber goes to Australia, the European Union and the United States, illegal timber will simply flow to innumerable ports where customs agents are inadequately equipped to stop the illegal trade.


Systems for certification of sustainable timber management have laid the groundwork for verification of proof of legality from forest to consumer. The policies to prevent the trade of illegal timber have not yet increased sufficient consumer confidence to raise the demand for wood, including tropical timber. In fact, attention to illegal logging that policy discussions stimulated has led to several unintended consequences. Substitution of temperate species for tropical species has occurred, and worse from the standpoint of the forest sector, substitution of non-wood products for wood.



Dr. Pepke also recently served as co-author on two reports published by the European Forest Institute that assess the European Union Timber Regulation and Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan. They can be downloaded at the following links:


EU Timber Regulation and FLEGT Action Plan: Lessons learned and policy implications
Assessment of the EU Timber Regulation and FLEGT Action Plan