WASHINGTON - May 14 - Members of Congress and the Bush administration reached a deal late last week on labor and environmental provisions to be incorporated in trade agreements with Peru and Panama, including key measures to address the imports of illegally logged timber from Peru’s Amazon rainforest. Environmental groups’ experts working on logging issues say that these measures could signal a new zero-tolerance policy from Congress towards the illegal timber trade and a first step to address the problems of illegal logging in Peru that were highlighted in a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Susan Schwab from Reps. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) and other members of the House Ways and Means Committee in January.
“These timber measures make an important statement that free trade should not mean illegal trade,” said Kris Genovese, associate international counsel of Defenders of Wildlife.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Defenders of Wildlife and the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) have worked for years to halt illegal logging and its associated trade because of the damage it does to rainforests and local communities. The groups say that illegal logging has been particularly pervasive in the remote Amazon areas of Peru, and is driven by demand from the United States. In addition to requiring stronger protections against illegal logging in Peru, Congressional negotiators insisted on measures that would give greater control to the U.S. Customs Service to stop illegal cedar and mahogany -- the most sought- after woods from Peru -- at the U.S. border.
“These provisions set a real precedent for addressing illegal logging through our trade agreements,” said Allan Thornton, President of EIA.
Congress also is currently considering the Legal Timber Protection Act (H.R. 1497), a bill recently introduced by Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) and Jerry Weller (R-Ill.) that would make it illegal to import timber into the United States that was logged illegally in any foreign country.
"We are pleased to see this strong leadership from the Ways and Means Committee on the illegal timber trade, and urge Congress to remain vigilant to ensure that the trade provisions are fully implemented and enforced," said Ari Hershowitz, director of the Latin American BioGems campaign for NRDC.
The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, nonprofit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has 1.2 million members and online activists, served from offices in New York, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Beijing.