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Efforts to address illegal logging and reduce the trade in illegal timber have borne fruit and prompted some positive reforms in producer countries, a new report from Chatham House has found. However, changes in the sector mean overall trade in illegal timber has not fallen in the last decade. 
EU and US policies designed to reduce demand for illegal timber have helped cut illegal imports to those markets. These reforms and the EU’s partnership agreements with producer countries have prompted improvements in forest governance and a fall in large-scale illegal timber production.

But growth of demand in emerging markets means that the progressive policies of so-called ‘sensitive markets’ are now less influential. China is now the world’s largest importer and consumer of wood-based products, as well as a key processing hub. India, South Korea, and Vietnam are also growing markets. The increasing role of small-scale producers, whose activities often fall outside legal frameworks, and a rapid increase in illegal forest conversion, also present new challenges. 
Alison Hoare: 'The EU and US have spearheaded some progressive and effective reforms. However, the changing scale and nature of the problem demands more coordinated international action. To stop further deforestation and associated carbon emissions, and to help achieve global objectives for sustainable development, the EU and US need to maintain their leadership while other countries - especially China, Japan, India and South Korea - need to step up their efforts to tackle illegal logging.'

The Chatham House report, which is based on the studies of 19 countries, which include key producers, consumers, or processors of timber, and is an update of a 2010 study found: 

Timber production

  • More than 80 million m3 of timber was illegally produced in 2013 in the nine producer countries assessed, accounting for about one-third of their combined total production.
  • An estimated 60% of this illegal timber is destined for these countries’ domestic markets.
  • Small-scale producers are increasingly important – for example, in Cameroon, the DRC and Ghana, they account for an estimated 50, 90 and 70% respectively of annual timber production. The majority of this is illegal.
  • For the nine producer countries, the area of forest under voluntary legality verification or sustainability certification schemes increased by nearly 80% between 2000 and 2013. 

Imports of illegal wood-based products 

  • In most of the consumer and producer countries assessed, the volume of illegal imports of wood-based products fell during the period 2000–13. 
  • The exceptions were China, and India and Vietnam where the volume of illegal imports more than doubled. 
  • As a proportion of the whole, illegal imports declined for nearly all countries. 
  • However, at the global level, the proportion of illegal timber imports remained steady at 10% - a result of the growth of the Chinese market. 

The EU and US 

  • The volumes of illegal imports into the UK, France and the Netherlands nearly halved over the period 2000-13, from just under 4 million m3 to 2 million m3. 
  • The volume of illegal imports into the US increased between 2000 and 2006, from around 5 to 9 million m3, and then declined to just under 6 million m3 in 2013. 
  • In 2013, more than 60% of illegal imports of wood-based products to the UK and US came from China.


  • The volume of illegal imports into China doubled between 2000 and 2013 from 17 to 33 million m3; but as a proportion of the whole illegal imports fell, from 26 to 17%.
  •  The volume of exports of wood-based products (legal and illegal) from the nine producer countries to China nearly tripled, from 12 million m3 in 2000 to 34 million m3 in 2013.

The Chatham House report makes the following recommendations:

  • The EU and US need to maintain and reinforce current efforts 
  • Other countries need to take stronger action – China in particular, but also India, Japan and South Korea
  • Strong international cooperation is needed to maintain & reinforce current efforts – the G20 could provide a forum to galvanise international action
  • Producer countries need to focus on strengthening efforts to tackle corruption, improving legality within the small-scale sector, and reforming land-use governance 

Alison Hoare: 'Developing countries are losing significant amounts of potential revenue from illegal logging, which is also causing the loss and degradation of forests, depleting livelihoods, and contributing to social conflict and corruption. Tackling illegal logging and strengthening forest governance are essential for achieving critical climate and development goals. Having seen the progress that can be made, it’s imperative that governments agree to work together to rise to new challenges and promote a more sustainable forest sector for the benefit of all.'   

Read the report >>

Editor's notes: 

For more information or to arrange interviews please contact:
Alison Hoare, report author, Chatham House, +44 (0) 2073143651

Amy Barry, Di:ga Communications, +44 (0) 7980 664397

The report and associated infographics will be available to download from the project website and the Chatham House website from 15 July 2015. 

These findings are part of Chatham House’s Indicators of Illegal Logging and Related Trade project, which looks at consumer, producer and processing countries. 

Follow us on Twitter: @CH_logging    

External expert spokespeople available for comment: 
Téodyl Nkuintchua, Programmes Coordinator, Centre pour l’Environnement et le Développement, Cameroon, (+237) 674 37 96 43, Skype: teodyl
Rod Taylor, Director, Forests, WWF International via Huma Khan, +1 202-203-8432  
Approved quote: 'The report shows the progress made in keeping illegally-sourced wood out of Western markets, but also highlights the urgent need to focus more on emerging countries and informal markets. It also highlights the global problem of illegal forest clearing, and the need for new policy measures to help sound forest stewardship compete with the conversion of forests to other land-uses.'
Ben Cashore, Professor of Environmental Governance and Political Science, Yale University, +1 203 432-3009
Mauricio Volvodic, Executive Director, Imaflora, Brazil, +55 19 3429 0810, +55 19 98157 2129
Chris Davies MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Forestry and Conservative MP for Brecon and Radnorshire, via Simon Francis, 020 7061 6252 
Approved quote: 'While it is encouraging that illegal timber imports to the UK have halved, it is vital that we remove the market for illegally logged timber in the UK altogether. One way is to ensure we have a sustainable forestry and wood processing sector that can supply more of our timber needs. Government can aid this by enabling the sector to plant more trees now and in the future.'