CITES ban on timber species: Scientists call for better assessments and consideration of sustainable management


University of Liège sounds the alarm on logging restrictions on several timber species in Africa.

(c) Jean-Louis Doucet - on the left the doussie Afzelia bipindensis and on the right the padouk Pterocarpus soyauxii

The 19th conference of CITES - Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora - has just closed in Panama. Among the decisions taken, some concern restrictions on the export of species that are not threatened. The reason? The difficulty of recognising their wood. Jean-Louis Doucet, Professor at Gembloux Agro-Bio Tech/University of Liège, is one of the researchers who is calling for their research results to be taken into account.

The 19th Conference of the Parties of CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (of which Belgium has been a member since 1984), was held in Panama from 14 to 25 November 2022. At the end of this conference, many important decisions concerning the protection of fauna and flora were taken, such as the listing in Appendix II of the convention of several timber species exploited in Central Africa, including padouk and doussié (also called Afzelia).

Among the official delegations and NGOs, only a few universities were present at the conference, including the University of Liege, which was the only French-speaking research institution. Our presence at this major event is the culmination of a year of research aimed at simulating the evolution of populations of 19 woody species in a context of increasing anthropic pressure," explains Jean-Louis Doucet, President of CARE Forest is Life (TERRA/Gembloux Agro-Bio Tech). This project, financed by the Programme de Promotion de l'Exploitation Certifiée des Forêts (PPECF), was implemented by Dr Grace Loubota, a researcher in our research unit, who was able to present her results to representatives of the various CITES member states.

The conclusions of Dr Loubota's work were unambiguous: neither padouk nor doussié are threatened and logging them will not jeopardise their populations in the coming century. Their densities are sufficiently high and these two taxa regenerate without difficulty," explains Dr Loubota. We therefore don't understand why the EU countries have supported, or even proposed, the listing of these species in CITES Appendix II. The answer is simple ... the wood of these two species is in fact difficult to differentiate from that of species considered threatened.

This decision is disappointing," says Jean-Louis Doucet, "because although additional management measures are justified for certain commercial species, the two species targeted should not be affected. The targets have been poorly chosen! The representatives of the European states will retort that all that is needed is for the countries of the South to draw up a non-detriment finding (NDFA)... This is not so easy, as it requires lengthy procedures that are impossible to complete within three months, the transition period after which the export of these species will be prohibited without this NDFA.

According to Jean-Louis Doucet, the first victims will be companies committed to sustainable management, including FSC or PEFC certified companies that export part of their production to Europe. Gabon, which did not want to be listed, will be among the first affected. "Forestry companies operating in this country have been faced with a doubling of the price of energy in six months, which makes the exploitation of most forest species unprofitable. Currently, only a handful of species are still being harvested, including padauk and doussie. Both species have exceptional properties for noble outdoor uses. To restrict their international trade is to put a noose around the neck of good forest management students.

Should the difficulties encountered by those authorised to verify the legality of imports into the EU (including the correct identification of species) be passed on to the producer countries? There will be inevitable impacts, such as a reduction in the volumes of FSC or PEFC certified tropical timber on European markets and additional pressure on countries that are committed to sustainable forest management. In Gabon, in the short term, all of the country's forests should be certified for their sustainable management. No European country can match this level of requirement. "Worse, by putting pressure on countries in the South that export a renewable resource, they will inevitably be pushed to promote other resources, including palm oil, to the detriment of forests that have become unprofitable. A catastrophe that could be avoided if we finally recognised the real virtues of tropical woods, whose image has been tarnished by decades of misinformation," concludes Professor Doucet.

you will also like