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April 20, 2012

Illegal log trade flourishes under U.S.-Peru trade deal

Our colleagues over at the Environmental Investigation Agency have just published a comprehensive study in the trade in illegal logging certificates in Peru in the years since the US-Peru FTA was signed. As they write:

By crossing public information on (a) the “supervision” inspections conducted by the Supervisory Body for Forest Resources and Wildlife (OSINFOR for its Spanish initials) on a series of timber concessions with (b) the documentation for CITES export permits for cedar and mahogany, EIA identified more than 100 shipments containing illegally logged CITES wood that were exported to the US between January 2008 and May 2010 – that is, more than 35% of all such shipments with CITES permits that left Peru for the US during this period.

Peru’s primary exporter, Maderera Bozovich, exported shipments under 152 CITES permits during this time, at least 45% of which included wood of illegal origin. It is likely that more supervisions in the field would discover that these percentages are actually higher.

The FTA contained a new Annex on Forest Sector Governance, which was put in place because Peru was (at the time of negotiations on the deal) one of the world's primary sources of cedar, mahogany and other endangered species. (Longtime Eyes on Trade readers will recall that the forestry annex was a major reason cited by key Democrats for their support of an otherwise fundamentally flawed trade deal, back when a minority of Democrats joined with a majority of Republicans to pass the deal back in 2007.) A provision of the annex reads that Peru is obligated to:

"Provide criminal and civil liability at adequate deterrent levels for actions that impede or undermine the sustainable management of Peru’s forest resources. Such actions shall include:

(i) Threats or violence against, or other intimidation of, government personnel engaged in enforcement of Peru’s laws, regulations and other measures relating to the harvest of, and trade in, timber products;
(ii) Knowingly creating, using, presenting or providing false information on any material document relating to enforcement of Peru’s laws, regulations and other measures relating to the harvest of, and trade in, timber products, including forest management plans, annual operating plans, applications for permits/concessions, and transportation documents;
(iii) Obstructing an investigation, verification, or audit conducted by government personnel engaged in enforcement of Peru’s laws, regulations and other measures relating to the harvest of, and trade in, timber products;
(iv) Knowingly harvesting or purchasing timber or timber products from areas or persons not authorized under Peruvian law; or knowingly transporting timber or timber products taken from areas or persons not authorized under Peruvian law; and
(v) Providing to a government official, or receiving as a government official, compensation, whether monetary or in kind, in exchange for particular action taken in the course of that official’s enforcement of Peru’s laws, regulations and other measures relating to the harvest of, and trade in, timber products."

While there is no statistical evidence that trade in endangered timber has increased, or that deforestation has increased, EIA is concerned (as I understand it) that the lack of accountability represented by the forged documents that do not line up to the actual origin of the trees sold and exported from 2008-10 could be an indication of deeper forestry abuses beneath the statistical surface or down the line. They're calling on the Obama administration to audit Peru's forestry practices, as a first step that could lead to actual retaliation under the FTA.

The FTA has been a fundamentally disruptive force in Peruvian life, disrupting presidential elections and now offering U.S. multinationals with tools to evade justice and environmental clean-up responsibilities. See this excellent report by the Sunlight Foundation's Keenan Steiner for more on this latter point, which makes mention of our March 2012 report on a recent so-called investor-state case under the U.S.-Peru FTA. The Obama administration is set to lock in and expand these rules under the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which both Peru and the US are in and which is also supported by presumptive GOP candidate Mitt Romney.

The significance of the EIA reports (you can check out EIA's 2010 study on the same topic) is that the best part of the FTA (the forestry sector annex) is delivering more information and attention to forestry, but has not yet led to fundamental change on the ground. To deliver that change, we'll have to see actual enforcement. Now, the ball's in Obama's (or Romney's) court. Will they deliver?

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