China bans illegal timber imports from Ghana

Ghanaians and expatriates involved in the illegal harvest and logging of endangered tree species in the country will find it considerably harder to engage in these illegal trading activities as China – reputedly the biggest buyer of illegal logs from Ghana – amends its forestry laws to include a nationwide ban on buying, processing or transporting illegally sourced timber into that country.

The move is expected to provide direly needed protection to endangered tree species, including rosewood among other tree species that are still being illegally exported from countries, most especially Ghana, despite their hovering close to extinction.

China is regarded as the world’s largest importer of wood and the largest exporter of wood based products. Reports indicate that between 15 to 30 percent of all timber traded globally has been illegally harvested as China’s demand for raw materials for its vast wood-processing industry has been a massive driver of illegal logging worldwide.

According to the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) – international investigators and campaigners against environmental crime and abuse – as at 2019, more than six million rosewood trees have been cut down in Ghana for illegal export to China since 2012, blaming some corrupt officials in Ghana for forging documents to allow the wood to leave the country.

Despite the ban on rosewood in Ghana, it was listed by the Forestry Commission for being one of the top five species exported in 2019 by both volume and value, recording 9,679 cubic metres in 2019’s first quarter.

For the past two decades, some environmental crusaders have campaigned seriously for a total ban to be enforced on illegal logging. Some industry players assert that this new development is potentially huge and a real game-changer for both the future of the planet’s forests reserve and the battle against climate change.

The EIA insists that this new amendment incorporated into China’s law is a positive move which will also help to encourage timber-producing countries like Ghana to tackle corruption in the way they manage and trade in the products of their own forests.

Currently, reports indicate that the trade in rosewood has become the most illegally traded wildlife product worldwide, in terms of both value and volume, surpassing that of illegal trade in elephant, big cats, rhinoceroses, pangolins, parrots and turtles combined.

Rosewood species are in high demand in Asia, notably China, being used to manufacture furniture. A recent assessment issued by the EIA indicates that the quantity and value of illegal rosewood imported into China from Ghana in September, 2019 alone amounted to over 9,330 tonnes, worth over US$5.4 million, in breach of Ghana’s regulation prohibiting the harvest, transport and export of the species in the country.

In addition to violating the country’s laws, these exports raise serious questions about Ghana’s implementation of the Convention on International Trade in Wild Species of Fauna and Flora, since West African rosewood species have been protected by the international convention since 2017, EIA asserts.