Belgium hub for trade of illegally logged tropical timber
A lack of controls has turned Belgium into a hub for the trade of illegally harvested tropical timber. This was revealed on Tuesday by Deforestation Inc, an international investigation in which Belgian journalists from De Tijd, Knack and Le Soir were involved.
Besides deforestation, illegal logging also leads to crime, corruption, money laundering and human rights violations in the countries of origin. Since March 2013, imports of illegally logged timber have been banned by the European Timber Regulation.
But over the past decade, Belgian imports of tropical timber from non-EU countries have more than doubled. In 2022, imports reached 234,000 tonnes, almost half of total EU imports, De Tijd writes. The vast majority, 80 per cent, is transited to other EU member states. Most of the wood comes from three countries: Cameroon, Gabon and Brazil.
The Belgian Federal Public Service (FPS) Environment employs two inspectors who are responsible for checking the 4,500 wood importers active in Belgium. Of the top 120 importers, the inspectors were able to check half of them. Since 2017, a maximum of 30 inspections take place per year.
Due to the lack of controls, illegal timber easily finds its way into Belgium, sometimes through shortcuts. The journalists point to several dubious shipments from Myanmar as an example. The rise in the number of findings of violations by customs also shows the seriousness of the problem.
"There are imports of tropical timber of which we are not sure if it was legally harvested," FPS Environment spokesperson Wendy Lee told De Tijd. "It is a problem, but we can only comment on what we check. There will certainly be a part that we don't see, that we don't know about."
© CARL DE SOUZA / AFP