EXPORT-BASED LOGGING THREATENS PNG FORESTS

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By Neville Choi

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (Oct. 28, 1999 – Independent)---Export-based logging by Asian transnational logging giants is a major threat to 84 percent of the remaining natural frontier forests in PNG.

Already 60 percent of the total frontier forests in the country have been lost. The threat is mostly to the frontier forests of Sandaun province, East and West New Britain and New Ireland.

These facts and profiles of several large companies which control large-scale logging in the country are contained in a recently released Greenpeace report entitled Buying Destruction.

The report is targeted at corporate consumers of forestry projects to make them aware of the depletion of ancient forests throughout the world and the need to preserve these forests.

The first of its kind, the report is based on reports and research into the global logging industry and contains information on more than 150 companies which are producing, processing and transporting ancient forest wood and wood products.

The report calls on corporate consumers dealing in ancient forest products to stop buying wood products and help stop the depletion of ancient logs.

"Only one fifth of the world’s original forest remains as large tracts of ancient forest, and much of what does remain is threatened by logging and other activities, such as mining, infrastructure development and conversion to agriculture.

"An estimated 10 million hectares of ancient forest are degraded or destroyed each year. That’s an area the size of a soccer field every two seconds. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) anticipates significant increases in demand for forest products in the coming decades. Unless consumers act to reduce their demand on forests, many more areas of ancient forest will be lost," the report states, adding "there is a growing consumer and investment concern over the damaging effects of ancient forest exploitation. Research in the U.S. shows that consumers do not want to buy - or invest in - ancient forest destruction and are prepared to pay more for environmentally certified wood products."

In PNG and the Solomon Islands, the report states that the logging industry is largely dominated by Asian companies.

"In PNG, the Malaysian-based company Rimbunan Hijau controls around half of the logging industry. In the Solomon Islands, Malaysian companies continue to dominate, although significant large-scale logging is also carried out by some South Korean-owned companies. Illegal logging and trade remain widespread in both countries, with practices such as transfer pricing, under-reporting of log prices and tax exemptions commonly used to reduce both company tax payments and in-country profits."

In 1993 it was estimated that losses for the Solomon Islands due to under-reporting of log prices and underpayment of duties totaled US$ 49 million, or approximately one third of the country’s total export value that year.

It is understood that wood products from PNG increased from 600,000 cubic meters in 1980 to more than 3 million cubic meters in 1996. Important export species from tropical Oceania include kwila, pencil cedar, plachonella, calophyllym, taun and mersawa.

"PNG’s logging activities are clearly dominated by Malaysian companies, with 96 percent of top companies’ concessions owned by Malaysian concerns. Asian giants Rimbunan Hijau (RH), WTK and Primegroup are all present in PNG, with RH dominating the country’s logging industry. Their activities have been somewhat hindered by high taxation in logging, leading RH to close some of its concessions (at least temporarily)," the report reads.

For additional reports from The Independent, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Independent (Papua New Guinea).

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