Research Associate, Energy, Environment and Resources

Brazil's government has made slow progress in tackling illegal logging and associated trade, and illegality, corruption and fraud remain widespread in the country's forest sector, despite a relatively strong legal framework. 

View of a tree in a deforested area in the middle of the Amazon jungle during an overflight by Greenpeace activists over areas of illegal exploitation of timber in the state of Para, Brazil. Photo by RAPHAEL ALVES/AFP/Getty Images.View of a tree in a deforested area in the middle of the Amazon jungle during an overflight by Greenpeace activists over areas of illegal exploitation of timber in the state of Para, Brazil. Photo by Getty Images.

This paper is part of a broader Chatham House study which assesses the global response to illegal logging and the related trade.

The Brazilian government has made slow progress in tackling illegal logging and associated trade since the previous Chatham House assessment, in 2010. Illegality, corruption and fraud remain widespread in the forest sector, despite a relatively strong legal framework. Considerable efforts have been made to improve law enforcement in the sector but these have been hampered by poor coordination between the relevant government agencies, limited resources and inadequate penalties. At the same time, attempts to involve a range of stakeholders in policy discussions and decision-making have stalled.

The private sector’s response to illegal logging is perceived to be weak, despite the reasonably high uptake of sustainability certification schemes. Initiatives are under way aimed at promoting a legal and sustainable market for timber within Brazil, with the engagement of the private sector. However, such undertakings are modest given that the majority of the country’s timber production is consumed domestically.

Considerable investment in systems to monitor timber and revenue flows is required to tackle fraud, while the regulation of sawmills needs to be tightened to reduce the scope for the laundering of illegal timber. The imposition of appropriate sanctions and ensuring the collection of financial penalties could help to fill the gap in resources that is impeding effective enforcement.

Clarification of the regulatory framework is needed – in particular, those regulations related to the fiscal regime for the forest sector – as is the simplification of the processes for approving forest management plans. The latter is a priority if smallholders are to be able to engage in legal and sustainable forest management. An extensive programme of outreach and training is a prerequisite for ensuring such engagement. Finally, efforts to promote legal timber on the domestic market should be intensified and expanded.