The European Parliament's decision to end the import of illegally harvested timber and timber products into EU member countries from 2012 is a welcome step towards better protection of the world's forests. Considering that an estimated 20 per cent of the wood coming into the European Union is felled in violation of the laws of the source country, the new rules that require the importers to document the chain of supply and the authorities to conduct periodic inspections are a major improvement on existing regulations that rely on certification in the country of origin. The importers will now have to identify the source of supply at every level. This provision ensures or enables transparency, traceability, and verification. The move to ban illegal timber could not have come sooner. There is grave concern for the forests in the Amazon, in several African countries, in Asia, and also in Russia, as rising consumption has contributed to massive deforestation. It is worth recalling that the State of the World's Forests 2009 forecast continuing deforestation in Asian countries, in Africa, and in Latin America owing to pressure for agricultural land, cultivation of biofuel crops, and higher consumer demand. It is significant, therefore, that the EU has struck a blow for forest protection with a law that makes import of timber obtained illegally a punishable offence. The national governments have been given time to legislate penalties for violations of the law.

A more aggressive international regime to save old-growth, biodiversity-rich forests from environmentally unsustainable logging is top priority. United Nations estimates put the share of industrial wood coming from illegal sources in the range of 20-40 per cent of the total. In some countries such as Liberia, the proceeds of such destructive commerce have been used to fund armed conflict. In the case of Madagascar, the military-compelled resignation last year of President Marc Ravalomanana has exposed pristine forests to felling. It is encouraging that the United States, which receives a lot of the illegal wood from this naturally unique island, has used the Lacey Act (which has objectives similar to the new EU measure) to prosecute importers. Preservation of forests is also central to the campaign against climate change. Here, the U.N.-mediated effort to create a compensation mechanism for countries that adopt conservation measures is a good way forward. With sufficient international legal cooperation to curb unlawful trade and a parallel mechanism to reward sincere national governments, it should be possible to make destruction of forests less and less attractive.

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