New guidelines for verifying timber legality at the border

A draft set of timber trade guidelines is underway to help Customs officers across the world verify legal timber passing through border check points.

The Draft Timber Trade Guidelines for the World Customs Organization (WCO) is a joint project by the International Tropical Timber Organization, TRAFFIC and the Malaysian Timber Industry Board (MTIB).

At a recent two-day review workshop, the agencies gathered input and recommendations from government bodies and stakeholders to ensure that all areas concerning cross-border timber trade are covered within the guidelines. It also helped ensure that they effectively assist frontline Customs and enforcement officers in their day-to-day duties.

Workshop participants included the Forestry Department Peninsular Malaysia, Royal Malaysian Customs Department, the Malaysian Timber Industry Board (MTIB), Sarawak Timber Industry Development Corporation (STIDC) and International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO).

“If this project can be implemented in other countries, it will greatly improve the management of the timber industry. This is not only restricted to Customs but also other government organizations,” said Li Qiang, Systems and Market Analyst of Trade and Industry Division, ITTO. “These guidelines will improve law enforcement efforts to fight illegal logging and trade,” he added.

Timber Trade Programme Leader of TRAFFIC, Chen Hin Keong added, “This will be an opportunity for the guidelines to be emulated by customs agencies elsewhere in the world. The pilot work will run in Malaysia and allow them to take the lead in helping other countries such as China and various African nations.”

Timber is a valuable renewable natural resource with an estimated annual global trade turnover of more than USD300 billion. However, the largest threat faced by the industry for sustainable forestry management is illegal logging and trade.

“Customs officers play an important role in ensuring that only legally-sourced timber is imported, exported or transited through Malaysia. Despite having many levels of screening however, there is a constant danger that illegally-sourced timber can enter the supply chain and be laundered alongside legally sourced material,” added Chen.

The guidelines will be pilot tested by the Royal Malaysian Customs Department and submitted to WCO and ITTO for global dissemination once completed, likely to be by the end of the year.