Of US Democrats & Peruvian Timber

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 10/06/2007 08:28:00 PM
This one needs a bit of explaining. The US Congress cut a deal with President Bush in May to incorporate labor and environmental considerations into trade pacts with Panama and Peru. (Fortune magazine recently had a feature on US Trade Representative Susan Schwab's efforts to negotiate with a Democratic congressional majority.) With regard to Peru, the stated concern of the Democratic majority led by Charles Rangel was over illegal logging. It's a bit of a convoluted story that also involves Peru's government taking umbrage when a congressional delegation led by Rangel visited the country and declared that it should "adopt and enforce laws on logging mahogany" when such laws already existed. Whether they are being enforced or are effective is another matter. This follow-up story comes from the Economist: Is it America sticking its nose where it has no business in or America legitimately decrying environmental abuses?

In 2001 the [Peruvian] government, egged on by WWF, a green group, tried to regulate logging in the relatively small part of the Peruvian Amazon where this is allowed. It abolished the previous system of annual contracts. Instead, it auctioned 40-year concessions to areas ruled off on a map, with the right to log 5% of the area each year. The aim was to encourage strict management plans and sustainable extraction.

A recent study using satellite data by America's Carnegie Institution found that this policy did limit damage to the forest, at least until 2005. But greens on the ground say that the system gives loggers an incentive to overestimate the number of valuable trees in their patch. Some have filled their puffed-up yearly allowance with mahogany taken from natural reserves and from Indian land. A report by the forestry regulator found that only 22 of the 79 concessions it investigated contained as much mahogany as the loggers claim.

As loggers venture into reserves such as Alto Purús, they have clashed with isolated Indian groups, with killings on both sides. Last month government ecologists spotted from the air 21 members of a hitherto uncontacted tribe on the banks of the Río de las Piedras. Peru's Amazon Indian association reckons there are still 15 such groups.

Greens say that under the new system, just like the old, much of the timber exported from Peru (officially $200m last year) is cut illegally, with the connivance of the authorities. They have won the support of the Democrats in the American Congress, who insisted on inserting a “timber annexe” in the free-trade agreement with Peru. This gives Peru 18 months to hire more forestry inspectors, set up a stronger forestry regulator and stiffen penalties for illegal logging. It will also allow American officials to halt suspicious shipments at the border, and to visit Peru to see where they come from.

Few in Peru welcome such intrusion. Will it succeed in reducing the trade in illegal mahogany? Some reckon that better enforcement will indeed help to preserve the forest—though where Peru will get the funds for this is not clear.