Cameroon signs trade agreement on tropical hardwood

The European Union (EU) and the Government of Cameroon last week announced a trade agreement in which Africa’s biggest exporter of tropical hardwood to Europe has agreed to ensure wood traded within the country and shipped from Cameroon to the EU and other destinations worldwide contains no illegal timber.

Logs at the harbour in Kribi, Cameroon, waiting to be shipped to Douala for international export.

Logs at the harbour in Kribi, Cameroon, waiting to be shipped to Douala for international export.

According to a statement, Cameroon has committed itself to implement a comprehensive programme to press ahead the country’s reform process, including further strengthening its control of the forest sector and community rights. The EU has committed to excluding unlicensed timber from the whole EU market while providing assistance to Cameroon for enforcement and auditing systems.

The EU is Cameroon’s main market for sawn timber (80%) which goes particularly to Italy and Spain. China is the main market destination for its log exports (60%). Cameroon, custodian of about 20 million hectares of tropical forests, exports about US$481 million in timber and timber products round wood equivalent (RWE), the majority of which—about $362 million worth—is purchased by the 27 EU member states [data for 2006]. In addition to its lead role in exports Cameroon is an important processing hub of tropical timber for the region.

To date it has been difficult for importers in the EU to confirm whether exported wood products from Cameroon have been derived from timber harvested in accordance with national laws. Starting in 2012, all timber and timber products entering the EU from the central African country will require a licence showing that they contain only legally-harvested, -processed and -sold wood. Under the agreement, the timber must have been obtained in a manner that sustains the health of the country’s forests and provides benefits to local forest communities.

Cameroon is of particular significance with one of the Congo Basin’s largest forest areas. The Congo Basin is the world’s biggest tropical forest outside of the Amazon. Its forests are estimated to contain between 25 and 30 billion tonnes of carbon in their vegetation and therefore play an important role in global efforts to combat climate change. Deforestation is estimated to be the driver for up to 20% of global GHG emissions per year. In addition the area is highly prized by timber companies for its untapped wealth of valuable wood.