The term illegal logging covers a broad range of unlawful activities carried out in the harvesting, transport and sale of timber products such as felling, conversion, transport, sale and export. It includes such activities as illegal felling of trees in forest reserves, felling in excess of allocated limits, felling of protected or endangered species, illegal processing and exports, the avoidance of taxes, and misleading declaration to customs.
Illegal logging is an undesirable economic activity as it does a lot of harm to the environment, the local communities where the timber is sourced and the economies of producing nations. Major importers of timber such as the nations of the European Union seem to have little chance of putting a halt to this illegal trade because it is technically difficult to distinguish illegally sourced timber from the legitimate ones. It then becomes difficult to develop or implement a legal framework within which the illegal trade in timber can be stopped. Efforts are currently being made by scientists to develop scientific methods that can be used to determine the geographic origin of timber. Also trade restrictions cannot be imposed because they would be in direct violation of the principle of non-discrimination by the World Trade Organization (WTO). A way of working round this is for any two nations to enter into bilateral trade agreements aimed at curbing the menace of illegal logging.
Estimates of annual losses to national economies from illegal logging are in excess of ten billion US dollars. It is difficult to give exact figures because of the secretive nature of illegal activities but estimates show that more than 50% of the logging done globally is illegal. Most of these illegal logging activities takes place in areas of forests that are vulnerable such as the Amazon jungle, the rainforests of Central Africa, Russia and South East Asia.
There seems to be an unwritten agreement by critical stakeholders in the lumbering business such as governments, customs agents and timber companies to understate the statistics of illegal logging for a variety of reasons bordering on reputation and business confidence. Most governments for instance feel that if the estimates are too high it would indicate weak government control while timber companies for a similar reason feel that high figures could cause a loss of confidence by trade partners which would be bad for their business.
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