June 3, 2023

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Belgium turntable in illegally harvested tropical timber trade | internal

Because of the lack of controls, Belgium is a center for the trade in illegally harvested tropical timber. This was revealed today by Deforestation Inc. , an international study to which De Tijd, Knack, and Le Soir also contributed.

In addition to deforestation, illegal logging also leads to crime, corruption, money laundering, and human rights abuses in countries of origin. Since March 2013, the import of illegally harvested timber has been prohibited under the European Timber Regulation.

But over the past ten years, Belgian imports of tropical sawn timber from non-EU countries have more than doubled. Last year, this amounted to more than 234,000 tons, writes de Tijd, nearly half of all imports into the EU. The vast majority, that is, eighty percent, is exported to other member states of the European Union. The wood mainly comes from three countries: Cameroon, Gabon and Brazil. These are high-risk countries when it comes to illegally harvested timber and corruption in the timber sector.

Illegal deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest. Archive photo from 2014. © AFP

Only two inspectors

The Federal Public Service for the Environment employs inspectors who are responsible for checking 4,500 wood importers in our country. The inspectors were able to verify half of the 120 major importers. Since 2017, a maximum of thirty inspections have been carried out annually.

Because of the lack of controls, illegal lumber easily finds its way into our country, sometimes via shortcuts. For example, journalists point to various suspicious shipments from Myanmar as an example. The seriousness of the problem is also evident in the increase in the number of fines imposed by customs.

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“There is an import of tropical wood that we’re not sure if it’s been harvested legally,” environmental spokesperson Wendy Lee told De Tijd. “It’s a problem, but we can only comment on what we control. There will definitely be a part that we don’t see, that we don’t know about.”

Philip Verbelin of the environmental organization Greenpeace criticizes that the chance of catching timber importers in Belgium after ten years of European timber regulation is still “very, very small”. “How can you enforce the rules in Belgium with only about twenty inspections a year? That’s almost nothing when you see the amount of wood that comes into Belgium.”