A recent study in Ghana found a large increase in the illegal trade of Rosewood (Pterocarpus erinaceus) after the species was listed on CITES Appendices II and III.

According to the study, during the pre-CITES period of 2010-2015, 3,446 cubic meters of Rosewood were potentially traded illegally. During the post-CITES period, this number jumped to 7,574m3 (2016-2018).

How regulations incentivize illegal trade

Regulations can, and often do give rise to criminality. But how?

A regulation, such as a CITES listing, often leads to an increase in price for the regulated good. This stimulates demand. Coupled with corruption, this increase in demand results in an increase in the illegal harvest and trade of the good.

Despite a current ban on the harvest and export of Rosewood in Ghana, in the last two months:

Certificates cannot guarantee legality

CITES certificates cannot guarantee legality. They are supposed too, but at the end of the day, illegal wood can be traded with a CITES document. Just like illegal wood can be traded with an FSC-certificate. Even the FLEGT system which allows the import of FLEGT-licensed timber into the European Union without due diligence requirements increasingly appears to be susceptible to contamination by illegal wood.

Who benefits from timber regulations?

Regulations are important for the long-term good of forests and the forest industry. But there’s a point at which regulation, on top of regulation, becomes an advantage for black market operators and a detriment to forests.

Before additional regulations, verifications, and certifications are applied to forest product markets shouldn’t one question stand out above all… who will benefit?

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Header photo: Francesco Veronesi