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The sustainable Timber Trade and illegal logging

Legally and sustainably harvested timber, Ghana © Hartmut Jungius / WWF Timber is by some margin the most valuable wildlife commodity traded.

In the early 1990s, TRAFFIC estimated the global timber trade was worth around USD104 billion, approximately 65% of the total worldwide wildlife trade. By 2009, the FAO estimated the annual turnover at more than USD200 billion.

TRAFFIC strives to ensure that all timber trade is carried out in a legal and sustainable manner. However, timber that is illegally sourced or traded is major international concern. According to UNEP, Illegal logging and forest crime has an estimated value of US$30 to US$100 billion annually, or 10 to 30 per cent of the total global timber trade—and in certain countries, 50-90% of the wood is harvested or traded illegally. This illegal logging results in a loss of $10 billion to the global economy, and a loss of $5billion in government revenue.

TRAFFIC has a variety of projects investigating and monitoring the timber trade in Africa, Asia, North and South America and Europe.


TRAFFIC supports the work of COMIFAC (the Central African forests commission), whose member countries include Burundi, Cameroon, Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad, Rwanda and Sao Tomé and Principe. TRAFFIC seeks to provide expertise in policy and legal reviews, monitoring of timber trade including illegal trade, bushmeat trade, capacity building and training, and assist in the implementation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The Forest Trade sub-programme for TRAFFIC Central Africa (TCAF) was launched in February 2009.

TRAFFIC assesses timber harvesting in Madagascar and discovers a lack of management or enforcement to combat illegal loggingIn February 2017, TRAFFIC released a report analysing the sustainability and management of precious timber resources in Madagascar. The report, Timber Island: The Rosewood and Ebony Trade of Madagascar, found that a combination of political instability, government mismanagement, a lack of forest operation controls and a failure to impose punitive penalties on well-known traffickers contributed to what was effectively zero timber management control.

Read more about Madagascar's timber harvesting here.

In June 2015, TRAFFIC, jointly with WWF, organised the 3rd Annual East Africa Timber Trade Stakeholders Forum, an event designed to address the growing demand for timber as well as the increasing flow of timber and timber products within and beyond East Africa. Not only does the forum seek to address such issues directly, it also looks to create a co-ordinated interregional approach that enables communication and cooperation throughout the region and it is hoped that this will be both between countries and regional bodies.

In East Africa, a seminal report into illegal logging in Tanzania, Forestry, governance and national development: Lessons learned from a logging boom in southern Tanzania, led to widespread changes in the governance of forestry operations in the country, and the establishment of the Mama Misitu campaign, a coalition of 17 non-governmental organizations aimed at tackling corruption and mismanagement in Tanzania’s forestry sector. However, a follow up study by a team of scientists in 2010 found waves of forest degradation advancing outwards from Dar es Salaam over a 14 year period as a direct consequence of illegal logging.

A hard-hitting report by TRAFFIC reveals how millions of dollars worth of timber revenue is being lost each year in TanzaniaIn September 2013 representatives from the private timber sector, government and non-governmental organizations in Tanzania met during a TRAFFIC- hosted event to create a timber trade checklist designed to facilitate better collaboration between different sectors involved in the industry. One key activity involved in such a meeting was the examination of the timber trade chain, in order to identify the areas which required the most attention and create a list of key intervention points along the trade route.

Directors of Forestry for Angola, Namibia and Zambia (l to r): Mr. Ignatius N Makumba (Director of Forestry, Zambia), Mr. Joseph Hailwa (Director of Forestry, Namibia), Mr. Domingos Nazaré da Cruz Veloso (National Director of Forests, Angola) In August 2015, a collaborative workshop on timber trade took place in Namibia, with Angola, Zambia and Namibia all participating. Such a meeting facilitated an agreement to develop an action plan on forest management and timber trade across the three countries. TRAFFIC supported this workshop alongside the Directorate of Forestry and the Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation (IRDNC).

In South Africa, TRAFFIC is helping the government to monitor the timber trade with neighbouring countries, including providing capacity building and training for species identification, enforcement assistance, and advice on how to enhance controls of the trade.

In September 2014, stakeholders in Madagascar met to discuss the timber trade and how best to carry out harvest and trade in a sustainable manner. The workshop was partly convened by TRAFFIC, and assessed the laws and policies required as well as outlining the importance of transparency in the industry.

In June 2010, a workshop organized by TRAFFIC in Cameroon included participants from a range of agencies which aimed to address wildlife issues within the context of logging concessions. In 2014-15, with funding from ITTO, TRAFFIC developed a series of legality training modules for the Forestry Department of Cameroon (MINFOF), Customs, Gendarmerie, Police, Judiciary, and Treasury (Taxes) that relates to forestry and timber trade. These modules is used to trained the officials in the forest and the supply chain to ensure they understand the systems, procedures and legal processes within their agencies, and to assist in inter-agency coordination to stop illegal logging and illegal timber trade in Cameroon. In August 2014, The Congo Basin Forest Partnership (CBFP) featured TRAFFIC as partner of the month; the CBFP brings together over 70 partners and was created at the Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in order to facilitate natural resource management and improve the quality of life in the Congo Basin.

South America contains 21% of the world’s forest, but has only a limited role in the international timber trade. According to a 2013 TRAFFIC report, there has been a decline in the proportion of South American wood within the global timber market, driven by a variety of factors. Efforts are currently underway to create a stable, legal supply for wood entering the global marketplace, through the implementation of a variety of Action Plans and Programmes.

TRAFFIC and VERIFOR have been working with local governments, civil society organizations and private sector representatives in the Amazonian regions of Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia to devise ways to improve forest governance.

An important principle has been recognizing common problems, and building partnerships between stakeholders in the region to tackle them. Key has been identifying where the challenges lie in each region, and ensuring that local perspectives influence the development of the government-led ALFA (Application of Forest Legislation in the Amazon) process. A communications outreach through local radio aims to keep local people in the Amazon region aware of forestry governance issues.

Valuable lessons have been derived from TRAFFIC’s work examining the US-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement and its effects on trade liberalization and forest verification.

TRAFFIC has also provided input into CITES and other fora on the trade in Bigleaf Mahogany (PDF, 700 KB).

In March 2011 TRAFFIC produced 24 short videos to form an educational video series designed to explain the issues that Ecuador’s forests face and enable people to access this critical information.

In September 2012, TRAFFIC led a joint workshop with Reforestamos Mexico at the IUCN World Conservation Congress, designed to provide information on policy, legality and forestry.

Indigenous communities within the Peruvian Amazon are forming Forestry Oversight watchdogs to oversee the fair and sustainable exploitation of their natural resources © TRAFFICIn May 2013, two indigenous communities within Peru formed a Forestry Oversight group to provide an opportunity for the local community to protect their forests by stopping illegal logging and also by enabling them to command a fair price for any timber resources they chose to exploit.

In South America joint roadmaps have been developed with various stakeholders in terms of responding to the FLEGT and broader forest governance agendas with an overall objective ‘to create an enabling environment and increase capacity in South America for developing initiatives that reduce illegal logging and bring timber trade in line with EU FLEGT objective, with a particular focus on trade to the European Union from Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.’ Discussions have been held with private sector representatives in each of the four countries to introduce the FLEGT Action Plan (including issues relating to the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) and VPAs). FLEGT website

TRAFFIC and partners have engaged organizations that represent a broad range of indigenous groups in the respective countries or within the region.  One such organization is the Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon River Basin (COICA), which represents nine national indigenous organisations.  In Colombia, the project has built on the long term association between WWF-Colombia and the Uraba Environmental Region Corporation (CORPOURABA), which represents the Corpouraba, the Chigorodo and Mutata Indigenous Councils.

National scoping studies for Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Brazil have been published, presenting an analysis of illegal logging and timber trade, and the state of forest governance and management.  Participants in a multi-stakeholder experts meeting to explore between the FLEGT Action Plan and implementation of related forestry-based initiatives agreed to produce recommendations to promote joint efforts in the various initiatives’ implementation.  An analysis of synergies between the FLEGT Action Plan and other forest governance policies and initiatives was published in December 2013.

There is growing agreement regarding the importance of having robust measures of forest governance. Initial indicator methodologies for Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru have been developed, and an initial ‘test’ measurement undertaken to establish a forest governance “benchmark” for Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Brazil.

Many stakeholders within Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, particularly indigenous and other forest dwelling communities, are largely unfamiliar with the aims and requirements of the EU FLEGT Action Plan and how this can contribute to improved forest governance.  To overcome this knowledge gap, and to inform and encourage local stakeholder groups to use FLEGT and related measures to greater advantage in reducing illegal logging and trade and achieving wider forest governance objectives, an online e-learning tool has been developed in consultation with indigenous community representatives.  Training of indigenous community leaders has already been undertaken in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. A final version of the e-learning tool is available at and can also be accessed through the project website (

In the USA, TRAFFIC has worked with other partners to secure the passage of the amended Lacey Act. This Act is aimed at combating trafficking in illegal wildlife, fish and plants, and in 2008, the Farm Bill was passed to expand this Act to include more plant species, including timber.

In December 2011, WWF’s Global Forest and Trade Network, alongside TRAFFIC, launched a multi-language online training module to enable people to gain a broader understanding of the amended Lacey Act and how best to comply with it, particularly from the perspective of an exporter.

The timber trade is highly significant in Asia and several TRAFFIC reports have investigated the trade—both legal and illegal—into various Asian timber species exploited by logging interests.

They include reports into the trades in Merbau (PDF, 1 MB) and Ramin (PDF, 2.8 MB), both Southeast Asian tropical hardwoods popular in the European Union for use in flooring and decorative products such as picture frames respectively; Taxus (PDF in Chinese, 2.3 MB), a genus of yew trees, that suffered heavy exploitation over a short time period after it their valuable anti-cancer properties were discovered; Sandalwood in India, which is illegally exported to neighbouring countries; and agarwood, a kind of aromatic resin found inside the trunks of certain Asian tree species, that has been traded for centuries, particularly to destinations in the Middle East.

A meeting earlier this week in Kuwait sought to improve the implementation of regulations to ensure the legality and sustainability of the trade in agarwood—the highly prized fragrant resin from Asia is integral to the culture of the Middle East. Click image to enlarge © Environment Public Authority of KuwaiIn October 2011, TRAFFIC participated in talks in Kuwait on agarwood and sustainability, a meeting that aimed to improve the implementation of CITES regulations surrounding the legality of the agarwood trade. Skill is needed to identify ramin wood correctly—hence the need for a specialist workshop © TRAFFIC

TRAFFIC has also reviewed the cross border timber trade between Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore and provided information for assessments of the national timber trade in Indonesia and Lao PDR. TRAFFIC has reviewed Malaysia’s forestry regulatory framework and recommended changes to enhance the national laws on forestry. With WWF, TRAFFIC has also investigated China's timber trade (PDF, 1.4 MB). In April 2014, TRAFFIC and WWF held a “Timber legality training workshop” in Guangzhou, China to help increase awareness amongst Chinese timber companies of various international regulations surrounding the trade of timber. This series of training for timber companies has also been carried out in other parts of China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Lao PDR, Thailand, and Indonesia. TRAFFIC has also assisted in the training of enforcement officers in Asia on the identification of timber species.

In 2011, the EU accounted for 35% of the global timber trade while illegal logging contributed to 50% of the deforestation occurring in Central Africa, the Amazon and South East Asia, according to WWF.

In Europe, TRAFFIC has worked mainly with authorities in the European Union, an important destination and transit market for timber shipments from all over the world, particularly with trying to ensure legislation is implemented so that timber imports into the region are from legally sourced supplies and in compliance with CITES regulations.

TRAFFIC has also reached out to the timber companies and timber federations in various countries in the EU to engage companies on legality and trade issues and promoting the use of the WWF GFTN/TRAFFIC’s timber legality frameworks for companies to meet the due diligence requirements of the EU Timber Regulation.

In 2003, the EU published the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan, which looked to tackle illegal logging across the globe. As both EU governments and businesses purchase a significant amount of timber products from around the globe, compliance with international law is vital to ensuring that illegal logging is reduced worldwide.

A recent timber trade workshop highlighted the challenges faced by EU operators in mitigating the risk of importing illegal timber from Latin America © TRAFFIC In 2012, the EU FLEGT Action Plan in South America was introduced, which had a particular focus upon trade between the EU and Brazil, Columbia, Ecuador and Peru. TRAFFIC helped implement this project, which had specific aims of ensuring stakeholders had access to clear information, establishing a benchmark against which to measure changes in forest governance and to inform on the efforts of countries and agencies involved in logging activities. This programme concluded in 2014, with a forum that enabled stakeholders to share their knowledge and experiences.


Across the regions in Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Malaysia, Viet Nam and China, TRAFFIC has also developed, through multi-stakeholder consultation and analysis of the regulatory frameworks, a common framework for assessing legality of forestry operations, timber processing and trade – Principles, Criteria and Indicators.


Many of TRAFFIC's reports into the timber trade from the forestry publications section of this website. Catalogues listing all the titles on particular topics, including timber, are available from the publications search page.

Several of the regional newsletters also contain articles of relevance, including:
Info TRAFFIC - the French language Information Bulletin of TRAFFIC, with articles inIssue 3 on Exploitation du bois d’oeuvre en Afrique de l’Ouest et centrale; Issue 5 on Gestion durable et légale des forêts tropicales; Issue 7 on Conférence des Parties à la CITES - CdP14; Issue 8 on Critères et lignes de conduites pour la définition et la vérification de la légalité des bois produits en Afrique centrale : bilan du projet GFTN; and Issue 9 on La 9ème session de la Conférence des Parties de la CDB, La COMIFAC avait rendez-vous à Bangui, Commerce du bois en Afrique centrale et definition de la légalité du commerce des produits de bois.

TRAFFIC Post – TRAFFIC’s quarterly newsletter highlighting issues relating to illegal wildlife trade in India. Issue 1 and Issue 3 contain information about illegal trade of Red Sanders Pterocarpus santalinus in Asia.