‘Sustainable’ Tropical Timber Mostly a Mirage, Says New Report

Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) in collaboration with Friends of the Earth Japan, Australia and South Korea released a 151-page report, ‘Sustainable’ Tropical Timber Production, Trade and Procurement’, which questions the sustainability of the international tropical timber trade, the quality of forestry governance in Malaysia and existing policies and regulatory measures in Japan, South Korea and Australia set up to ensure a more sustainable timber trade.

Among others, the report draws attention to the reality where, despite existing measures to ensure sustainability, it has taken only around three decades for log production and export in Malaysia to rise, peak and fall. It cautions that there are even indications that the country’s natural timber resources have been largely depleted today.

The report also states that Malaysia’s claims on the sustainability of its timber production system are challenged by a set of systemic issues, one of which is the lack of transparency in forestry governance, pointing out to the fact how the issuance of timber harvesting licences in Sarawak is still shielded from public scrutiny and how the country lacks a mechanism to ensure that a process is set up to ensure that indigenous territories may only be logged with the free, prior and informed consent of affected communities.

Further compounding this matter is the inadequacy of many regulatory and policy efforts on timber importation and procurement in the public or private sector in consumer countries, which tend to lack sufficient understanding on the flaws of timber production systems around the world today and the reality on the ground for affected communities. In the end, such a system would entail that timber legality and sustainability to be accepted merely on faith.

Thus far, many key timber importer countries such as Japan and South Korea have failed to reduce their consumption of tropical timber products to an acceptable level. They have also been unable to revive their domestic timber sector to provide an alternative source to tropical timber, resulting in a high reliance on cheap timber imports and naturally, deforestation elsewhere, which cannot be justified by the involvement of Japanese and South Korean companies in supporting various afforestation projects abroad in order to ensure that their supply for such cheap timber imports would continue uninterrupted in the future.

The report concludes that policy and regulatory measures in both producer and consumer countries have thus far failed to ensure a more sustainable tropical timber trade by continuing to neglect the reality on the ground – from systemic corruption, violations of human rights as well as unsustainable global production and consumption patterns. Essentially, the global depletion of natural timber resources is set to continue, and for now, a ‘sustainable’ tropical timber trade will have to remain as a mirage.

Media Advisory, 7 November 2013


Theivanai Amarthalingam, legal advisor, Sahabat Alam Malaysia / Friends of the Malaysia. Tel: 017 244 0 505

The report is online at www.foei.org