May 14, 2016

Customs Officers are at the Frontlines against Illegal Timber Smuggling

Customs Officers are at the Frontlines against Illegal Timber Smuggling

A truck carries newly felled trees in Sabah. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Whether you like it or not, Malaysia’s timber industry is a major part of the country’s economy. Last year alone Malaysia exported more than MR22.14 billion ($5.5 billion) worth of timber and timber products to a global market with an annual turnover of more than $300 billion, according to the International Tropical Timber Organization. Malaysia’s exports amounted to more than one million cubic meters of certified tropical timber, shipped to 49 countries worldwide.

The trouble is that alongside a regulated timber industry thrives a shadow economy of illegal logging, which poses a threat to sustainable forestry management, not least through clack enforcement of existing forest protection laws. Now, in the first such national workshop of its kind, several government agencies and industry organizations held a symposium in Putrajaya with a view to remedying at least some of the shortcomings by equipping Customs officers with better tools and techniques to try and roll back the illegal timber trade.

Customs officers play a vital role in ensuring that only legally sourced timber is exported from Malaysia or imported into the country. But that’s easier said than done, because illegally sourced timber can enter the supply chain, mixed in with the legally sourced variety. “Customs is the main enforcement agency for combating such activities,” said Chen Hin Keong, Timber Trade Programme Leader for the anti-trafficking watchdog TRAFFIC.

What’s needed includes new Customs guidelines and anti-smuggling measures, and not only in Malaysia but across the region where a booming trade in timber, both legal and illegal, often threatens the very existence of decimated forests. The Malaysian Timber Certification Scheme seeks to ensure that the country’s Permanent Reserved Forests are managed sustainably through a rigorous system of certification for legally logged timber, but anti-logging efforts must also be stepped up to weed out illegal logging, especially in protected tropical forests that are home to a stunning variety of species, both flora and fauna.

Malaysia is hardly alone in racing against time to try and save its remaining forests and the species that inhabit them. According to its new “State of the World’s Plants” report by the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew in the United Kingdom, one in five plant species worldwide, out of the 390,000 known plants, is at risk of extinction.

“Malaysia needs to be vigilant and diligent to ensure illegal logging and illegal timber trade does not threaten our nation and its natural resources,” Hajjah Norchahaya Hashim, deputy director general of the Malaysian Timber Industry Board, stressed at the workshop in Putrajaya.

Amen to that.

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