British authorities have sanctioned more than a dozen UK importers sourcing wood from Cameroon. Illegal logging is a growing problem in Cameroon, says Greenpeace.
Cameroon is considered a “high-risk country” for illegal logging by some European authorities, which means that, under European law, companies importing timber into the region must demonstrate that they have taken strong measures to minimize the risk that imported timber is illegally cut, Greenpeace said.
In a report released this recently, the environmental campaign group said 14 UK importers had received warnings or other notices about violations, and predicted that “sanctions will follow for those companies that have not met the terms of the UK competent authority when follow-up checks take place.”
The penalties, revealed by the UK National Measurement and Regulation Office ,NMRO, at a meeting last month in London, follow a similar move by the Dutch government in early March. The actions suggest timber from Cameroon is coming under increasing scrutiny in the EU, Greenpeace said.
Authorities from the NMRO told InfoCongo that the Regulatory Delivery is responsible for enforcing the EU Timber Regulations (Regulation (EU) No 995/2010) in the UK, as well as prohibiting trade in illegally harvested timber and timber products.
“These regulations oblige companies that first place timber products on the market to carry out due diligence in order to establish legality and avoid high risk or controversial supply chains,” says Michael Kearney, NMRO Enforcement Manager.
He said the enforcement officers investigated 19 UK companies, reviewing the due diligence that they applied to timber products from Cameroon and through the investigations 13companies were unable to demonstrate appropriate due diligence, and as a result seven companies were issued with warning Letters, and 6 companies were issued with Notices of Remedial Actions.
“Regulatory Delivery will be revisiting each of these companies in the months ahead in order to establish if they have improved their systems in line with the advice and support provided. While these processes are ongoing it is not appropriate to publish specific company level information, Michael Kearney cautioned.
Greenpeace campaigners called on the government of Cameroon to investigate illegal logging and sanction companies involved in an effort to curb the illegal trade, which is estimated to cost the Central African country $5.3 million a year in lost revenue and forest assets.
Cameroon’s forests are among the richest in the Congo Basin, providing habitat for endangered lowland gorillas, chimpanzees, and forest elephants. They have become an increasing target for international logging companies as forests in Indonesia, a previous focus, disappear.
Experts say unsustainable illegal logging in Cameroon, is contributing to climate change and provoking conflicts over land.
“Cameroon’s authorities must examine this new set of sanctions and start investigating the companies in question as a first step to tackling the illegality and corruption in the timber sector,” urged Eric Ini, a forest campaigner for Greenpeace Africa at a press briefing in Yaoundé on June 30th, 2016.
The government must also fully implement a “Voluntary Partnership Agreement” signed with the EU which aims to curb illegal logging and strengthen forest governance in the country, Ini said.
The Greenpeace report said that since the partnership agreement came into force in2010, the Cameroon government has made little effort to tackle illegal logging.
It should be recalled that another report on illegal logging operations in Cameroon by Greenpeace said it had uncovered a trail of stolen timber leading to Cameroon’s main log exporter Compagnie de Commerce et de Transport (CCT) and has reportedly prompted a government audit into the activities of CCT and its suppliers.
On, 8 March 2016, the Dutch authorities sanctioned a company, FIBOIS, for breaching the EU Timber Regulation and failing to execute proper due diligence to prevent illegally harvested timber from reaching the EU market. Authorities were not convinced that the Dutch importer – and by extension, the Cameroonian timber trader trading with the CCT – had taken sufficient steps to ensure the timber is not illegally harvested, the Greenpeace report stated.
Cameroon forestry officials, however, said the necessary measures have been put in place to respect the agreement with the EU.
“The Cameroon government works in close collaboration with the EU in accordance with the Voluntary Partnership Agreement and this can be verified,” said Bruno Mfou Mfou, Director of Forestry in the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife.
The country has an Inter-Ministry Committee that oversees implementation of the agreement, he said.
But Maureen Grisot, a spokeswoman for Greenpeace’s Congo Basin campaign, said the government has responded defensively to charges it has done too little to halt illegal logging “rather than investigate and carry out the appropriate sanctions.”
Unauthorized logging hurts the prospects for Cameroon’s development and can be a source of local conflict, said Samuel Nguiffo, Executive Director of the Center for Environment and Development, a Cameroon non-governmental organization.
Eni, of Greenpeace, argued that “uncontrolled logging operations in Cameroon are a frequent cause of social conflicts, as they frequently occur without the consent of forest-dependent communities, who see their resources destroyed with rarely see any benefit in return.”
Europe is a major export market for timber from Cameroon and Britain ranks fifth in the European community in terms of imports, Greenpeace said, behind larger importers including Belgium and Italy.