Dr Mari Momii, Independent Environmental Policy Analyst; Lecturer, Atomi University, Japan

Japan's legality verification system, known as the goho-wood system, is not only voluntary but has serious design weaknesses which limit its ability to eliminate illegal products from Japan’s market.

A worker walks near a log to be processed at the Okikura Lumber Mill facility, Tokyo, Japan. Photo by Tomohiro Ohsumi / Bloomberg via Getty Images.A worker walks near a log to be processed at the Okikura Lumber Mill facility, Tokyo, Japan. Photo by Getty Images.

This paper is part of a broader Chatham House study which assesses illegal logging and the associated trade. 

The Japanese government has continued to engage on the issue of illegal logging and related trade, but its approach remains focused on ‘soft’, voluntary measures rather than establishing legally binding requirements. It has been actively promoting the country’s legality verification system, known as the goho-wood system, and this is helping to raise awareness of the issue of illegal logging in Japan. However, the system is not only voluntary but has serious design weaknesses which limit its ability to eliminate illegal products from Japan’s market.

While the number of companies registered as goho-wood suppliers has increased, this may be occurring at the expense of sustainability certification, which is more demanding and expensive. The number of companies in Japan with FSC chain-of-custody certification remains low.

Japan’s imports of timber-sector products at high risk of illegality are estimated to have declined significantly since the start of the century, though levelling off since 2010, while imports of high-risk paper-sector products are estimated to have gradually increased over this period. Levels of high-risk imports remain significantly above those of the other consumer countries reviewed. These are currently estimated to comprise 12 per cent and seven per cent of total timber- and paper-sector products respectively.

It is recommended that the government develop further legislation to control imports of illegal products, including a requirement for risk assessment and mitigation as well as third-party monitoring. Such legislation would also help support the government’s policy to promote the domestic timber industry. Until such legislation is passed, Japanese industry should implement more robust risk assessment and mitigation procedures.