Amazon destruction arrives in Portugal

Feature story - March 23, 2005
The cargo ship Skyman had nearly made its delivery of more than a quarter million US dollars worth of illegal Amazonian logs. Nearly. But as it sailed into Portugal, Greenpeace activists rappelled from a bridge at the port entry, blocking the ship's arrival in the docking area.

Portugal is Europe's gateway for illegal timber from the Amazon and other ancient forests.

We teamed up with Quercus, the largest environmental organisation in Portugal, to challenge the new Portuguese Government to take a strong public stand in full support of the European Union's (EU) action plan to tackle the trade in illegal timber and to back new European legislation to prohibit the import of illegally logged timber.

The Skyman contains over US$253,000 of timber from the Brazilian Amazon, including wood from at least four companies convicted in Brazil of supplying illegal timber. One of them, Milton Schnorr, has been fined for illegal logging in 2001, 2002 and 2004 whilst the owner of Rancho da Cabocla, Moacir Ciesco, was arrested in December for his company's illegal timber extraction on public land.

Our Amazon Campaigner Marcelo Marquesini, speaking from Leixoes, said "The trade in Amazon timber from illegal and destructive logging is linked to corruption, theft of public land, violence against local communities and in some cases murder. By failing to tackle the trade in this timber Portugal could be considered complicit in these crimes."

The Brazilian Amazon has one of the world's highest rates of forest destruction. In 2003, Amazon deforestation reached 24,000 km2 - an area equivalent to almost one third of Portugal. The State of Para, the principal exporter of Amazon timber to Portugal, accounts for over one-third of the total Amazon deforestation in Brazil. This deforestation has been driven by over four decades of illegal and destructive logging and the clearance of forest land for activities such as cattle ranching.

Portugal is the world's fifth largest importer of timber from the Brazilian Amazon and a significant importer of timber from other ancient forest areas. Whilst other major EU importers of timber such as Germany, UK, France and Belgium have supported the rapid implementation of European measures to tackle illegal timber, known as Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT), Portugal has not shown the same commitment.

Helder Spinola from Quercus said "It is time for Portugal to assume its responsibility and not turn a blind eye to illegal activities in forest producing countries. We publicly challenge Portugal's new government to show its environmental credentials by fully supporting European measures to tackle the trade in illegal timber and by backing new EU legislation to prohibit the import of illegal timber."

At the end of 2004 Greenpeace and Quercus asked a number of Portuguese timber importers to support the campaign for EU legislation to stop the import of illegal timber. Two of them, Sardinha & Leite and Sonae Industria have now declared their support.

The organisations are now calling on all Portuguese importers to reject any timber onboard the Skyman that comes from companies with convictions for illegal logging and to obtain accreditation to trade timber from the Forest Stewardship Council™ (FSC®). FSC® timber provides an independent guarantee that timber had come from forests managed to the highest ecological and social standards.

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