Policy and regulatory framework, export–import procedures and controls
Forest law enforcement remains challenging in SAARC countries. The regulatory framework that controls timber transport and verifies the supply chain is weak. Timber production, processing and trade in particular, and forest resources in general are regulated by multiple acts and laws that have good provisions. However, a lack of resources and corruption in forest departments make effective forest law enforcement very challenging.
Export and import procedures are inconsistent across study countries in the documentation required and the checks carried out. This inconsistency, together with the geographic locations of these countries, results in variation in time required for, and costs associated with, exports and imports.
The main means of recognising timber as legal is a transit pass. Forest departments check consignments of timber against transit passes at checking stations. However, a transit pass is only a piece of paper and forgery is not uncommon. Checks are manual and systems used at the forest checkpoints are not computerised. Technological improvements to the systems are needed to make the transit pass an effective way to control timber transport or to verify the supply chain.
Forest policies in all study countries lack explicit measures to control illegal logging. In addition, there is no mandate in the countries’ forest and international trade policies for effectively checking whether imported timber comes from a legal source. No documents proving timber legality are required for customs clearance. This leaves the door wide open for illegal timber imports.
Source, trade flows and markets for illegal timber
Inadequately enforced forest regulations allow large quantities of unrecorded timber, sometimes mixed with legal timber, to enter the domestic supply chain each year. Unrecorded timber meets a substantial part of domestic timber demand especially in Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka. It is mixed with legal timber to some extent in all the study countries.
Private tree growers’ poor knowledge about timber legality and the absence of national systems for recording legal timber production data also contribute to the problem. Corruption in the forest sector is a major underlying problem.
The study countries import large quantities of illegally sourced timber that go undetected because of a lack of effective policy measures. A significant portion of the imported timber, particularly in India, is estimated to be sourced illegally. Because there is no policy mandate, imported timber can be cleared through the import procedures without proper checks for legality.
Illegal cross-border timber trade takes place within communities and by organised groups. Individuals trying to earn a living and organised groups move illegal timber across the border (especially from Nepal and Myanmar/Burma to India, and from India and Myanmar/Burma to Bangladesh). Communities on both sides of the border do not respect national borders when in need of timber.
Recommendations to promote legal timber trade
There are a number of key areas where support on Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) could be targeted:
Strengthen legislative framework and adopt responsible import policies
Highlight the importance of strengthening the legislative framework and adopting more responsible foreign trade policies. This could introduce mandatory checks of the legality of timber imported by the SAARC region countries and Myanmar/Burma.
To prevent illegal logging, illegal cross-border timber trade and illegally sourced timber imports, strengthen existing legal frameworks and adopt import policies with a mandate for strict timber transport control and supply chain verification. Effective law enforcement and policy implementation are also necessary.
Raise awareness about timber legality and the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR)
Training for small-scale private tree growers about timber legality will reduce the volume of unrecorded timber in the supply chain. Such programmes can be run on public media platforms and at village or community levels.
Awareness-raising programmes can be used to target the forest industry, particularly in India. These should focus on the requirements of the EUTR and the risks of continued consumption of illegal timber.
Promote sustainable forest management and forest certification
It is important to promote sustainable forest management and forest certification. Because the problem of illegal timber is regional, and small-scale producers supply a significant quantity of timber, the potential for regional cooperation to promote group forest certification should be explored.
A joint action plan (involving several countries) is more likely to prevent illegal timber from entering the supply chain than a single-country approach.