U.S. trade sanctions sought for Malaysia’s illegal timber trade
Eight environmental groups asked the Bush administration Thursday to consider trade sanctions against Malaysia, if the Southeast Asian country does not quickly curtail its illegal ramin timber trade.
In a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell, the groups pointed out that large smuggling operations are using Malaysia to move illegally cut ramin from Indonesia to third-country manufacturers in China and Hong Kong and to consumer markets in the United States, Europe and Japan. The groups’ letter also said Malaysian government officials knowingly permit this practice.
Indonesia banned the export of ramin logs after an abundance of illegal harvests of these trees was taking place in the country’s national parks. These parks are home to rare orangutans and Sumatran tigers.
Ramin is a prized hardwood, fetching prices on the international market of up to $1,000 per cubic meter. The wood is used to make a wide range of products such as picture frames, wood blinds, pool cues, furniture, tool handles and decorative moldings.
As a result of overcutting, ramin was placed on the World List of Threatened Trees and is classified by the World Conservation Union as vulnerable to extinction in the wild. Malaysia’s illegal shipping Indonesian ramin also violates the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), of which the United States is a member.
The groups — Sierra Club, Orangutan Foundation International, Defenders of Wildlife, Earthjustice, Rainforest Action Network, Greenpeace, Environmental Investigation Agency, and Natural Resources Defense Council — said the Bush administration has the authority to impose trade sanctions under the Pelly Amendment, which penalizes countries for violations of CITES.
The groups said the Pelly Amendment should be invoked if the Malaysian government fails to stop illegal imports, re-exports and transshipments of Indonesian ramin timber and withdraws its reservation to the ramin CITES listing.
In June 2003, President Bush committed the United States to an international effort to end illegal timber trading by authorizing the so-called Initiative Against Illegal Logging.
According to a report released by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) Feb. 5, most of the illegal ramin shipments are exported from Malaysia’s Johor Port. “As much as 70,000 cubic meters of banned Indonesian ramin is being smuggled to China and Hong Kong through Johor Port each year in as many as 2,000 shipping containers,” the report said.
Both the U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection and Department of Agriculture have cracked down on imports of illegal ramin-based products in recent years. In 2002, U.S. Customs seized a shipment of 100,000 ramin dowels worth about $10,000 which arrived from Malaysia without a CITES permit, the EIA report said. In 2003, EIA estimated that U.S. authorities seized 120,000 pieces of ramin.
EIA president Allan Thornton told reporters in Washington Thursday that U.S. seizures of ramin, as well as those in other countries, are just the “tip of the iceberg” of the actual volume entering the global market. “Our societies are addicted to cheap wood products and must act to restrain this illegal trade,” he said.