- The US plans to wreck a British initiative to commit
the G8 states to combatting illegal logging in the world's threatened rainforests,
a leaked memorandum revealed last night.
- The development secretary, Hilary Benn, wants G8 environment
and development ministers meeting in Derby tomorrow and on Friday to insist
that all timber bought by official bodies in rich nations comes from properly
- The British initiative was prompted by Indonesia, which
said corruption there was so rampant that the authorities did not have
the power to tackle the supply of timber by criminal gangs. Indonesian
government ministers urged rich nations to reduce demand for illegal supplies
by requiring proper certificates showing wood had come from properly managed
- But industry lobbyists in the US have resisted moves
to certify timber. A US state department memo leaked to the BBC's Newsnight
shows that the US will refuse to sign up to the Benn initiative.
- The state department head of forest policy, Stephanie
Caswell, drafted a strategy in January designed to scupper the Benn plan,
an "Input to strategy paper for G8 environment and development ministerial".
Under what she described as "watch out items" is timber procurement.
She said that "new import regulations/restrictions are unacceptable.
We do not support issuance of 'action plan' by ministers. It should not
be highlighted." The paper adds that the "US will work with Canada
to hold back procurement actions and with Russia and Japan to dissuade
them from supporting UK".
- A state department spokesman confirmed that the paper
was genuine, but said it was never formally accepted as US strategy. He
confirmed that the US had reservations over proposals for new rules on
timber procurement in America, but insisted that in this week's negotiations
the US would allow other G8 partners to decide whether to support Mr Benn's
- He said the US "might have had some discussions
with Japan on the fringes of meetings about the issue" in G8 preparatory
meetings, but said the Japanese would make up their own minds.
- Europe is strongly backing Mr Benn's initiative, and
the US tactics drew a furious response from rainforest campaigners. Faith
Doherty of the Environmental Investigation Agency in the UK said: "This
is outrageous. US business simply doesn't want any restrictions on its
- Japan's foreign ministry told Newsnight that its position
was much closer to the UK than to the US. It is understood that Russia
is also lining up with the Europeans.
- Agus Setyarso, an Indonesian expert on forests who works
with Mr Benn's department, said the Indonesian government could not contain
the organised crime rings carrying out the illegal logging without help.
"The problem cannot be attacked from within the country, but from
the market side. What we are asking from developed countries is twofold.
One is to stop buying illegal timber from producer countries. The second
is to help us in bringing back the systems in our country in such a way
that the market and the law enforcement can be back to normal."
- A department spokesman said it did not comment on leaked
memos, and that negotiations over the statement for the end of the G8 meeting
were continuing. Privately, however, officials were said to be angry at
the US's refusal to join international efforts.
- Other observers feel the state department's position
is driven by free-market ideology. Forest campaigners say the US position
is a serious blow, because if all the G8 nations signed up to the Benn
plan it would guarantee that a substantial proportion of world timber was
properly produced and send a clear signal to companies and exporting nations
about the direction of future policy.
- In an echo of the debate over climate change, the US
is sceptical about G8 timber policies because China is a huge importer
of stolen timber. Campaigners say China is unlikely to change unless rich
countries put their house in order.
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