Illegal logging in Papua New Guinea: who do we believe? Greenpeace, SGS, or the World Bank?

In August 2006, the World Bank reported that the level of illegal logging in Papua New Guinea could be as much as be 70 percent.

A mere two months later, the FSC accredited certifier SGS maintains that all log exports from PNG are fully legal – and have been for the last 12 years. The article below is from the PNG newspaper The National, which happens to be owned by Rimbunan Hijau, one of PNGs largest loggers.

This all raises interesting questions on the recent protest in the UK by Greenpeace about the importation of timber illegally felled in PNG. Greenpeace UK recommends that all timber should be FSC certifed, as this is the ‘only guarantee that timber is from legal and sustainable sources’. But according to FSC-accredited certifier SGS, the timber that Greenpeace claimed to be illegal could not have been!

Maybe this confusion can be resolved by noting the SGS’s spokesman’s reported comment that “legality means different things to different people” – so maybe timber certfied by SGS in PNG would be legal in a different way from the way that everybody else understands it to be legal. But if so, what kind of ‘legal’ (and, for that matter, ‘sustainable’) does Greenpeace believe the FSC guarantees? Who can answer this??

Log observer: All exports from PNG followed laws

A WORLDWIDE monitoring company is satisfied that all log exports from Papua New Guinea are legal and all taxes fully paid. The Swiss-based SGS, which operates a network of more than 1,000 offices and laboratories around the world, has concluded the exports come from known sources and all have the necessary approvals from the PNG Forest Authority and Department of Trade and Industry.

Its PNG office general manager Bruce Telfer said their checks showed that export taxes were paid and in most cases, “we see evidence that the foreign exchange is actually remitted”. “In the last 12 years, we have not uncovered any log smuggling,” he told a forest seminar at Port Moresby’s Holiday Inn yesterday.

Mr Telfer, who has been involved in the forest industry for almost 30 years, said SGS was appointed by the PNG Government 12 years ago to monitor all export log shipments, provide “real-time” statistics to Government agencies and ensure all duties and taxes were paid.

He said SGS was the world’s leading inspection, verification, testing and certification company and was recognised as the global benchmark for quality and integrity.

Referring to a July 2001 news report arising from the National Surveillance Coordinating Centre of three “illegal log ships in Gulf province that were being investigated”, he said one vessel was inspected while the other two were found to be carrying Ok Tedi copper concentrate carriers.

He also said that their secret surveillance of ship loading in Gulf last year revealed no log smuggling. Since 1995, SGS had inspected more than 25 million sq metres of logs from 80 logging camps with a FOB value of more than K4,450 million. The Internal Revenue Commission collected a total of K1,362 million. There was also additional foreign exchange earnings totalling K354 million; additional Government revenue of K265 million while landowners enjoyed an additional revenue of K27 million.

Under the SGS system, all log producers are required to affix bar-coded tags to logs at time of original scaling. The exporter then notifies SGS of impending shipment with details of all logs to be exported. SGS follows up with a pre-shipment check of all logs to ensure they are the correct species and measurement.

SGS’s headquarters compile and analyse the information and submit monthly reports to the relevant Government agencies. Mr Telfer said if major problems were encountered, the Government agencies would be advised to take prompt action. On the question of so-called “illegal” logging, Mr Telfer said the word “legal” meant different things to different people.

“We need an agreed definition of the word ‘legal’ and extensive consultation was needed to do this. “Then there would be a need for a system to implement the legal definition,” he said, adding that international auditing by a third party would be also be required.

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