In a report just released by the U.S. government, Peruvian timber imported to the United States in January 2015 has been identified as largely illegally sourced, offering the latest example of illicit timber trafficking from Peru to the United States. The U.S. Timber Committee’s summary highlights the results of the Peruvian verification report requested by the United States Trade Representative, Ambassador Michael Froman, in late February 2016 under the U.S.-Peru Free Trade Agreement, and outlines actions to be urgently undertaken in Peru to combat the illegalities in the system.
Supervisory reports, produced by the Peruvian government’s independent forest oversight body, OSINFOR, have provided the necessary data to document the illegal origin of this timber. Beginning in 2014, the Peruvian customs authority, SUNAT, launched a special operation called “Operation Amazonas” which introduced the collection of exporters’ data regarding the point of harvest for their timber – a key action that is not yet a standard practice – and cross-referencing that information with OSINFOR’s field verifications. SUNAT found an average of 90 percent illegally logged timber in the shipments that were randomly selected to be verified.
“The recommendations identified in the Timber Committee report are essential, and reinforce the findings from Operation Amazonas and previous investigative reports,” said Lisa Handy, EIA’s Forest Campaign Director. “The key is for the Peruvian authorities to obtain the data they need to identify and stop the trade of illegally harvested timber – as well as the political will to do it. As Operation Amazonas has demonstrated, two pieces will be indispensable for this: the field verifications conducted by OSINFOR and a requirement for the exporter to provide data about point of harvest. Without these, little can be done to transform an entrenched system of laundering and impunity.”
In 2015 alone, there were at least three other shipments of timber from Peru to the United States with evidence of high percentages of illegality, (details below), all transported in the same vessel involved in the January shipment – the Yacu Kallpa – and involving many of the same importers and exporters, La Oroza chief among them. No one has yet been held accountable for this voluminous illicit trade, although some are currently under investigation by the Peruvian and the U.S. authorities.
- April 2015: “Peru’s Rotten Wood,” a documentary released by the TV network Al Jazeera in August 2015, demonstrated through documents, interviews, and field research that Peruvian timber exporters continue to buy illegally logged timber, in spite of the fact it is widely known that between 80 and 90 percent of that timber is likely of illegal origin. The documentary specifically referenced an April 2015 Yacu Kallpa shipment to Houston.
- September 2015: The Yacu Kallpa shipment that arrived in Houston from Peru was reported to contain over 90 percent illegal timber. Upon its arrival, the U.S. customs authorities held this timber and eventually excluded it from the U.S. market under the U.S. Lacey Act. In June 2016, the Department of Justice executed a search warrant of the premises of one of the primary importers of record, Global Plywood and Lumber.
- December 2015: A shipment transported on the Yacu Kallpa left Iquitos, Peru with already 15 percent of its load under seizure by the Peruvian authorities. By the end of January 2016, it was detained in Tampico, Mexico, once the Peruvian Prosecutor determined that at least 96 percent of the timber in the vessel – some of which had an intended destination of Houston – had been illegally harvested. The timber seized in Tampico reportedly covers two city blocks and sits six stories high.
In April 2012, EIA released a multi-year investigative report, The Laundering Machine, which documented significant quantities of illegal timber exported from Peru to the United States between 2008 and 2010, and detailed the process followed to launder the timber, based on false forest inventories produced by the timber concession holders and “validated” by corrupt forest officers.
“Given all the U.S. and Peruvian governments’ institutions involved in this recent verification process, it appears that they are now taking the fight against the illicit timber trade in Peru seriously,” said Julia Urrunaga, EIA’s Peru Program Director. “We hope that the new Peruvian administration responds quickly and decisively to implement the recommendations in the Timber Committee report and stop the pervasive theft of the Peruvian Amazon. Key Peruvian governmental institutions such as SUNAT, OSINFOR, and the specialized prosecutor’s office for environmental issues have demonstrated that they can document the illegal origin of timber being exported and coordinate international actions to stop it. Now it is time to scale up and make this the standard practice.”
“It is time for Peru to address this organized crime with the urgency it requires. Illegal logging is not just about the stolen trees and ecosystem destruction, but also about corruption, human rights violations, and the threats of violence against and assassination of brave local leaders and public officers that fight to stop it,” added Urrunaga.