Liberia: Agreement signed to stop illegal logging (Reuters, BBC)

| May 16, 2011

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The Government of Liberia and the European Union have signed an agreement to end illegal logging in Liberia. The deal, in the form of a Voluntary Partnership Agreement, will ensure that all timber exported from Liberia to the EU comes from legal sources. It also contains provisions to ensure that the trade will benefit the Liberian people.

Illegal logging was common during the country’s civil war in the 1990s. Former President of Liberia, Charles Taylor, was accused of selling timber to fund his regime. Much of this illegal timber found a market in the EU. In response, the United Nations placed sanctions on timber exports in 2006.

The agreement is legally binding. It defines what constitutes legal timber, and ensures that exported timber can be traced back to its source.

Dr. Florence Chenoweth is the Minister of Agriculture in Liberia. She says, “In the past, Liberia’s natural resources have been used to drive conflict and greed that benefited few and destroyed many lives. Now it is clear that we are committed to ensuring the gifts from our forests will benefit all Liberians now and in the future.”

Liberia contains over half of the remaining rainforest in West Africa. Around 45 per cent of the country is covered in tropical forest, over four million hectares. Liberia is home to rare and endangered wildlife, such as the pygmy hippopotamus. It is also known as a biodiversity hotspot, with a total of 2200 plant species.

The agreement involved more than two years of negotiations, following a participatory process that included civil society and representatives of forest communities.

In March 2013, the EU Timber Regulation will come into effect. This will require all companies selling timber to the EU to demonstrate that their timber is legally harvested. Liberia’s newly signed agreement will allow the country to continue trading with the EU. Ghana, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo also recently signed similar Voluntary Partnership Agreements.

Some are worried that the agreement will simply cover up existing poor practices. Silas Kpanan’Ayoung Siakor won the Goldman Environmental Prize for his exposé of the illegal timber trade in Liberia. He comments, “To control illegal logging, there must be strong political will on the part of the EU and the Liberian government, as well as the active participation of civil society actors, including local communities…. Without that, the VPA will be used simply to ‘greenwash’ illegal logs from Liberia.”

Despite these concerns, the agreement raises the hope of jump-starting the sustainable forest industry in Liberia for the benefit of all.