Published 19 May 2016

Keeping the timber trade legal: Malaysia’s Customs officers given a helping hand

Putrajaya, Malaysia, May 2016—More than 100 Customs, Forestry Department, timber trade enforcement and private sector representatives and other stakeholders from across Malaysia met on 12th May, 2016 in Putrajaya, Malaysia to develop timber trade guidelines to assist frontline Customs officers in their work. 

Customs officers at the timber legality workshop © TRAFFIC

The Ministry of Plantations Industries and Commodities (MPIC), Malaysian Timber Industry Board (MTIB), Royal Malaysian Customs and TRAFFIC, organized the first National Workshop, bringing in Malaysian stakeholders, in collaboration with the World Customs Organization (WCO) and International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO). 

The project has funding support from the United States and Japanese governments.  

Timber is the most valuable natural resource commodities traded globally with an estimated annual turnover  in excess of USD300 billion. In 2015, Malaysia exported timber and timber products valued at MYR22.14 billion (USD5.46 billion) with Japan and USA the major export markets, valued at MYR4 billion (USD0.98 billion) and MYR3 billion (USD0.74 billion) respectively.

However, illegal trade is a threat to sustainable forestry management with illegal logging and processing estimated to cost the world economy anything between USD30-100 billion, or some 10-30% of the total global timber trade each year.

“Malaysia needs to be vigilant and diligent to ensure illegal logging and illegal timber trade does not threaten our nation and its natural resources,” said Hajjah Norchahaya Hashim, Deputy Director General of MTIB (MTIB), in her opening speech of the workshop.

Customs Officers have a vital role in ensuring only legally-sourced timber is imported, exported or transits through Malaysia. However, there is a constant danger that illegally-sourced timber can enter the supply chain and be mixed with legally sourced material.

“Timber-specific guidelines and reference material for Customs are important for the prevention of illegal timber trade,” said Lee Sang-Hyup, Compliance and Facilitation Division, WCO in Brussels. “So we are very happy to be working with the government of Malaysia, ITTO and TRAFFIC to develop these guidelines for Customs on the frontline.”

“Malaysia is pleased to be supporting this project and will help to pilot and test the guidelines using our collective experience and knowledge of the timber trade,” said Norchahaya.

“This project will allow Customs officers in ITTO members countries to support national policies and the efforts of agencies working in the forestry sector to contribute towards safeguarding the social, conservation and environmental needs and services of their country,” said Steven Johnson, Office-in-Charge, ITTO.

Combating timber smuggling and illegal timber trade is a high priority in many countries

Chen Hin Keong, Timber Trade Programme Leader for TRAFFIC

“Customs is the main enforcement agency for combating such activities and TRAFFIC is pleased to be working with ITTO and WCO to help improve the capabilities of Customs officials to detect and greatly deter such illegal activity. We stand by ready to provide further assistance wherever needed,” Chen said.