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6 Oct 2004
Greenpeace accused Singapore and Malaysia on Wednesday of being hubs for illegal trade in a valuable tropical timber, saying the smuggling was destroying neighbouring Indonesia’s forests at an alarming rate.
The environmental campaign group said illegal logging and smuggling of wood cut from the Ramin tree – commonly used for furniture, window blinds and snooker cues – was rampant in Singapore and Malaysia, destroying forests and the animals that live in them.
Indonesia is home to the world’s third-largest tropical forests after Brazil and Congo.
“We are increasingly concerned about the attitude of the Singapore government. They have not taken sufficient action,” Greenpeace campaigner Tim Birch told reporters.
In Thailand, Greenpeace activists handcuffed themselves to the gates of the Malaysian embassy in Bangkok on Wednesday, demanding tighter controls on trade in Ramin, a hardwood found in the lowland forests of Malaysia and Indonesia.
About a dozen Greenpeace protesters, four of them wearing orange jump suits and chained to the gate, called on Malaysia to back Indonesia’s proposal at a wildlife conference in Bangkok to limit trade in wood from the Ramin tree.
“In order to protect this species and the forests it comes from, we must act now. We cannot wait one minute longer,” said Alex Ryan, a Greenpeace campaigner.
Greenpeace also wants Singapore to back the proposal.
“If people involved in trafficking drugs are prosecuted to go to jail, people involved in trafficking illegal timber should be prosecuted and jailed and their operations should be closed down immediately,” Birch said.
Indonesia banned Ramin exports in 2001 through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the global regulator of trade in wild plant and animal species.
Aside from one licensed Indonesian firm allowed to export Ramin with CITES permits, all other Ramin exports are illegal.
A May 2003 report by the UK-based Environmental Investigation Agency, a non-governmental organisation, said about $3 million worth of Ramin had been exported illegally from Singapore, a key Asian port, to the United States from September 2001 to July 2002.
Singapore’s Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA), which enforces CITES conventions, said that since the ban began in August 2001, existing stockpiles brought to Singapore before then could be legally exported.
The AVA said it had investigated several companies that trade in Ramin for trafficking. Except for one case of illegal Ramin import, which the authorities successfully prosecuted, they had not found “any irregularities” in other companies, it said.
Indonesia was expected to put forward a proposal to protect the Ramin tree on Thursday at the 2-week meeting of CITES in Bangkok which ends on Oct. 14.
If the plan is approved by the 166 CITES member governments, Ramin would be listed in the Appendix 2 category which would strictly control trade of the species.
Activists Global Forest Watch have said Indonesia’s forests have disappeared at a rate three to four times faster than those in Brazil since 1990, mostly because of logging and burning.
Indonesian environmental group Walhi estimates that Indonesia is losing nearly 2 million hectares (5 million acres) of forest every year and that if the rate continues most forests in the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan would disappear by 2010.
Much of this feeds huge demand for timber in economically booming China where logging was banned after excessive tree-felling contributed to floods that killed around 4,000 people in 1998. (Additional reporting by Karishma Vyas in Bangkok)