China’s Desire for Rosewood Drives Illegal Timber Trade in Ghana

By Frank Fang, Epoch Times
August 1, 2019 Updated: August 4, 2019

China’s desire for furniture made of rosewood is decimating forests in Ghana, as corruption and collusion are driving illegal exports of the valuable timber.

The corruption was uncovered by Washington-based NGO Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), whose undercover investigators spoke directly with Ghanaian and Chinese traffickers in Ghana, as well as shipping agents.

In March, Ghana reinstituted a ban on the harvest and trade of rosewood for the fifth time since it began taking measures to curb rosewood logging in 2012.

However, “powerful Chinese and Ghanaian traffickers explained to EIA undercover investigators how, with the help of [Ghana’s] ruling party members and complicity at all levels of government, they have established an institutionalized scheme, fueled by bribes, to mask the illegal harvest, transport, export, and CITES-licensing of the timber [rosewood],” according to the EIA investigative report, which was published on July 30.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is an international treaty signed by 183 countries governing global trade of wild animals and plants, under which rosewood is protected.

Rosewood, known as “hongmu” in Chinese, is in high demand since furniture made from that wood was historically used by imperial elites in ancient China and has become a status symbol in modern days.

According to EIA’s estimates, more than 540,000 tons of rosewood—the equivalent of 6 million trees—were illegally harvested and exported to China from Ghana since 2012. That’s equal to roughly $300 million worth of rosewood imported to China, despite the bans.

“Illegal rosewood logging and trade have devastating impacts on Ghana’s forests and the communities that depend on them,” Lisa Handy, Director of the Forests Campaign at EIA-US, said in a press release.

Ghana isn’t the only country falling victim to China’s “insatiable and unchecked demand for rosewood,” according to the IEA. West African countries, including Nigeria and Sierra Leone, also export rosewood to China.

The Epoch Times has previously reported on how China’s rosewood demand is also leading to the destruction of forests in Zambia.

Corruption and Collusion

The trafficking scheme involves officials at the local, regional, and national levels of Ghana’s Forestry Commission, according to the report.

One of the commission’s main responsibilities is issuing CITES “salvage permits,” “conveyance certificates,” and export permits. These are issued at every step of the supply chain: for obtaining, transporting, and exporting the wood.

The IEA investigation found widespread misuse of all three legal papers, with permits and certificates bought and sold by traffickers to cover up illegal logging.

For example, “salvage permits” in theory are granted to a few timber companies to use and sell salvaged timbers. The permits allow them to obtain trees that are already logged, claim abandoned logs, or cut down a limited number of trees for approved development projects. Detailed information, such as the location and duration of salvage operations, is required on the permit.

One trafficker told IEA that loggers with permits would cut down more trees than legally allowed—with the knowledge of the Ghanaian government.

IEA quoted another trafficker, who said people could pay 3,000 Cedi ($552) to local traders to obtain a conveyance certificate, which grants transportation across Ghana. The traders, in turn, obtained the certificates by paying about 800 Cedi ($147) in bribes to officials at the Forestry Commission.

Rosewood can also be transported without a conveyance certificate, by hiring “escorts” who are “connected to ministers and officials in the timber business,” according to IEA.

Forging official documents, misdeclaring timber species, and the government auctioning off seized timber back to traffickers, were known to have happened, driving up the illegal rosewood trade in Ghana.

On July 3, local media in Ghana reported that a Chinese rosewood trader was deported following government seizure of four containers of smuggled rosewood.

China has long courted Ghana for its natural resources. In 2018, China’s state-run Sinohydro Corp. signed a deal with Ghana’s Parliament, in which the Chinese company will provide $2 billion investments in local infrastructure projects, including roads and bridges, in exchange for mining rights to the country’s bauxite deposits.

Bauxite is a type of rock that can be refined to produce aluminum.

A previous version of this article misstated where the Environmental Investigation Agency is based. The Epoch Times regrets the error.

Follow Frank on Twitter: @HwaiDer