Estimated imports of illegal wood-based products into France, Japan, the Netherlands, the UK and the US have declined since 2010, research by Chatham House has found.

The word 'Illegal' is seen on tree trunks as Greenpeace activists demonstrate against the illegal importation of timber. Photo: XAVIER LEOTY / AFP / Getty Images.Greenpeace activists demonstrate against the illegal importation of timber. Photo by Getty Images.

The downward trend has been partly driven by progressive policies implemented by governments and the private sector. It is also the result of progress in many producer countries, as well as broader shifts in trade.

However, nearly 4% by volume of all wood-based imports into these countries are still estimated to be at high risk of illegality, with a collective value of over $7 billion.  Furthermore, Japan remains behind other importers, with high-risk imports currently estimated to comprise 10% of the country’s total. 

“Governments and the private sector in all five consumer countries have made concerted efforts to address the issue of illegal imports of wood-based products, including by passing legislation, implementing public procurement policies, signing up to certification schemes and working in partnership with producer countries. However, all have room for improvement,” said Alison Hoare, senior research fellow at Chatham House. 

“France has been slow to adopt legislation setting out sanctions for importing illegal products prohibited under the EU Timber Regulation, and concerns have been raised as to whether these will be sufficient to ensure effective enforcement. The allocation of sufficient resources for enforcement of this Regulation will also be crucial, not just in France, but also in the Netherlands and the UK.  In Japan, weak voluntary measures limit the government’s ability to eliminate illegal products from the market, while the US could improve the effectiveness of its legislation through better implementation procedures,” she added.

The emergence of China as a processing hub for the world’s forest sector means that it is now one of the main suppliers of wood-based products for these five countries, and has become one of the main sources of high-risk products. In 2013, over 50% of wood-based products imported into the US, and 30% of those into the Netherlands and Japan, came from China. Improving traceability in these supply chains will be crucial in the fight against the illegal timber trade. 

Editor's notes: 

Read the reports:

Trade in Illegal Timber: The Response in the United Kingdom by Duncan Brack
Trade in Illegal Timber: The Response in France by Laura Wellesley
Trade in Illegal Timber: The Response in Japan by Dr Mari Momii
Trade in Illegal Timber: The Response in the Netherlands by Duncan Brack
Trade in Illegal Timber: The Response in the United States by Dr Mari Momii
Methodology for Estimating Levels of Illegal Timber- and Paper-sector Imports: Estimates for China, France, Japan, the Netherlands, the UK, the US and Vietnam by Alison Hoare

For more information please contact Alison Hoare or visit the Illegal Logging portal.

These findings are part of Chatham House’s 'Indicators of Illegal Logging and Related Trade’ project, which looks at consumer, producer and processing countries. Four country reports (on Brazil, Ghana, Indonesia, Lao PDR) were published in October 2014, a further four reports will be published in the coming weeks (on Cameroon, China, Malaysia and Vietnam), and a Synthesis Report will be published in early 2015.