US$540 million lost to illegal wood exports

In the decade between 2003 and 2013 Mozambique lost over US$540 million through the illegal export of wood to China, according to a study by researchers at Maputo’s Eduardo Mondlane University.

“Mozambique has been losing large suns since 2004, since the amount of illegal timber exported to China is 5.7 times greater than the amount officially declared by the National Directorate of Land and Forests”, the report accuses.

The report was produced as part of the project “Forestry Governance in Mozambique: the Urgency of the Moment”, an initiative of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), with the support of the Swedish Embassy in Maputo.

Over 90 per cent of Mozambique’s timber exports go to China, and most of them are undeclared. This can be deduced by comparing the official statistics from the two countries. The differences are enormous. Thus in 2013, the last year covered by the report, the Mozambican statistics show that 54,000 cubic metres of logs were exported to China. The Chinese statistics show that 346,000 cubic metres of logs were imported from Mozambique – a difference of 292,000 cubic metres.

The truly massive discrepancies date from 2007. Using the average export prices for logs, the study calculates that the total loss over the decade was US$540.2 million.

Exporting timber illegally is a profitable business. The study calculates that the legal exports bring in profits of US$530 per container. But the illegal trade increases the profits more than fourfold, to US$2,430 per container, even after paying bribes to forest wardens and customs staff.

The study recommends changing the legislation in order to reduce the number of logging licences issued, and even imposing a moratorium on logging licences “in order to reorganise the sector in order to ensure greater transparency and credibility”.

Logging and the transport of timber by night should be banned, the study urges, and forest wardens should be provided with appropriate equipment and adequately trained to detect, prevent and repress illegal activities.

The study calls for improving the quality of licences and timber transport guides, by including security features that would be difficult to forge.