Belgium accused of illegal trade in Cameroonian timber

Story Highlights

  • A procedure has been opened on this subject since 19 October 2017 by the European Commission following a complaint lodged by the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Greenpeace.

Le Quotidien de l’Economie in its edition of 24 October 2017 looked at the laxity of the Belgian authorities in the application of the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) which led to the opening of the the European Commission.

Indeed, while large quantities of wood are placed on the Belgian market, Belgium has not managed to carry out a significant number of controls since March 2013, when the EUTR entered into force. According to Sébastien Snoeck, Forest expert at Greenpeace, the European Commission’s decision to open a case against Belgium is “a wake-up call for the Belgian authorities who must finally take this serious problem seriously and ensure that the law is respected.”

According to the denunciations, the illegal timber comes from three countries: Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Brazil. These are the main suppliers of the Belgian market. The figures available in 2014 show, for example, that Belgium is the 3rd largest importer in Brazil and Cameroon.

Despite this situation, Belgium is criticized for the lack of rigor in its controls. Since 2013, the date of entry into force of the EUTR, Belgium has only carried out about 20 checks. But, no sanction is reported. And it is this lack of sanctions that has attracted the attention of experts from Greenpeace and other non-governmental organizations. “We have documented several cases of wood sourcing companies with a high risk of illegality coming from different countries,” says Greenpeace.

In criticizing the laxity of the Belgian authorities, the NGO stresses that “despite the repeated promises of the minister to reinforce her control team, only a half-time official was in charge of these controls“. A lightweight device that finally makes Belgium “a colander on the road of illegal timber traffic“, adds Sebastien Snoeck, the Forest expert of Greenpeace.

However, the behavior of the Belgian authorities intrigues with regard to the weight of illegal logging and the timber traffic on the national economy. Illegality in the global wood sector costs between $ 50 billion and $ 150 billion, according to data from Interpol and the United Nations. It is “the second largest crime market in the world behind drug trafficking“, explain the Non-Governmental Organizations. They add that this traffic generates murders.

Especially for the case of Brazil, 59 people died in 2016 in the name of the defense of the environment. Of these 59 cases, 16 were related to logging.

After the opening of the procedure by the European Commission on 19 October 2017, Belgium has two months to respond to the criticisms raised by the Commission. Otherwise the proceedings will continue and even the case could be brought before the European Court of Justice.

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