A new report offering a detailed breakdown of Peru’s timber trade exposes the staggering levels of illegality that have contaminated the country’s wood supply chain and the constant evolution of trafficking networks.
In the report, “Authorized to Steal: Organized Crime Networks Launder Illegal Timber from the Peruvian Amazon,” the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) analyzes 1,024 Forest Transport Permits (Guias de Transporte Forestal – GTF). These documents accompany wood shipments ostensibly as a mark of their legality but are often traded on the black market to launder illegally logged wood.
The GTFs, which cover a three-month period in 2017, record the passage of timber from the northeastern departments of Loreto, Ucayali, Huanaco and San Martin through a control point on the road to Lima.
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Most of the shipments that the documents represent were backed by Forest Management Plans, which detail where loggers can work and what they can log. Of those with plans, 44 percent were inspected by the Agency for the Supervision of Forest Resources (Organismo de Supervisión de los Recursos Forestales – OSINFOR), the government body charged with supervising the timber trade. Fifty-eight percent of those inspected appeared on OSINFOR’s “red list,” which identifies logging operations with a high risk of illegality.
OSINFOR inspects logging operations in timber concessions, indigenous communities, private lands, and “local forests” – a framework that grants limited logging permissions to local communities in jungle areas. The GTF data shows clear patterns in which of these is most attractive to timber traffickers. Inspections of shipments coming from local forests found 98% came from operations on OSINFOR's red list, while 94 percent of inspected wood from private lands and 76 percent from indigenous communities also came from operations that appear on the red list. In contrast, just 6 percent of the shipments from timber concessions were on the red list.
Of the remaining 56 percent of shipments that OSINFOR had not inspected, it is impossible to say what percentage is likely illegal. Eight percent of these were from Forest Plantations, which OSINFOR does not have jurisdiction over. The remaining 48 percent were either not inspected by OSINFOR, were not reported to OSINFOR for supervision, or the GTF did not include the resolution number for the Forest Management Plan, without which it is impossible to trace whether or not an operation has been inspected.
InSight Crime Analysis
Timber trafficking in Peru is carried out by a range of criminal actors, from individual traders to large sophisticated networks, and is facilitated by rampantly corrupt officials. The CIEL report identifies and names several forestry officials that have consistently signed off on falsified plans yet faced no repercussions.
What the report makes clear is just how much of the industry these criminal actors have captured.
CIEL’s analysis could only identify around a quarter of the timber shipments examined as highly likely being of illegal origins, but it could also only identify 18 percent that were highly likely to be legal. In highlighting how the majority of shipments go uninspected, the report draws attention to the manipulated paperwork, grey areas and loopholes that are exploited by timber traffickers.
In addition to this, there is also a significant part of the trade that operates entirely outside of this framework, with wood sold directly on local markets or smuggled over the border to Peru’s neighboring countries.
Taking these sections of the industry into account, experts consulted by InSight Crime believe the true levels of illegality in Peru’s timber trade could reach as high as 80 percent, representing hundreds of millions of dollars for timber trafficking networks.
The report’s breakdown of the levels of illegality in the different types of logging areas also illustrates how trafficking has evolved to avoid the attentions of OSINFOR.
Initially, OSINFOR’s inspections focused on timber concessions, leading to a surge in illegality in native communities as traffickers sought out alternatives. When OSINFOR began to turn its attention to these communities, there was an increase in the use of local forests. With traffickers determined to keep one step ahead, there is already evidence that their next target is likely to be forestry plantations, which lie outside of OSINFOR’s reach.
However, for one of the authors of the report, and former head of OSINFOR, Rolando Navarro, the most damning aspect of the CIEL report is that there is little sign that Peru’s 2015 forestry law, which brought a series of new regulations and sanctions designed to tackle timber trafficking, has had a significant impact on criminality in the supply chain.
“This report provides evidence that nothing has changed with the new forestry law,” Navarro told InSight Crime. “The same actors continue operating with impunity using the same schemes and modus operandi as before.