Trade: Environmentalists blast APEC plans

SUNS 4326 Wednesday 18 November 1998

Washington, Nov, 16 (IPS/Danielle Knight) -- Plans by Canada and the United States to open up trade in forest products among countries of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) spell
disaster for the regions forests, according to environmental organisations.

The North American countries intend pushing their demands for the deregulation of forest products at the two-APEC summit conference which opens Tuesday in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur. Last week, environmental groups from Asia, Australia and the United States met at an alternative non-governmental organisation (NGO) meeting called the Asia-Pacific People's Assembly. They want negotiations on wood products halted until an independent assessment is made on the environmental and social impacts of timber trade deregulation.

"The United States may call itself an environmental leader, but first it should stop forcing its forest trade deregulation plans on other Asia-Pacific countries without assessing the environmental,
social, and cultural impacts on forest ecosystems and communities in the Pacific Rim," says Pat Rasmussen of the Washington-based American Lands Alliance.

The APEC summit, an annual gathering since 1993, brings together the leaders of nearly all of the countries bordering the Pacific including, for the first time, Russia, Vietnam and Peru.

Forest products are one of the nine sectors worth some 1.5 trillion dollars in global trade that APEC agreed last year should be the subject of early tariff reductions, as a prelude to the forum's
eventual goal of free trade by the year 2020.

Japan has angered U.S. trade officials by urging that several sectors in the APEC trade liberalization initiative, including wood, be excluded. U.S. trade officials maintain that reducing
tariffs will not harm the environment but environmentalists warn that accelerating trade in forests products will lead to deforestation.

The forests in many APEC countries, including Australia, Canada, China, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea Thailand and the United States, are among the most endangered in the world, said
environmentalists at the People's Assembly. The Asian financial crisis, which has spread to Russia, is putting even more pressure on these ecosystems, they said.

>From Indonesia to Russia, multilateral and bilateral finance agencies continue to drive unsustainable logging, groups said.

"In Indonesia, IMF intervention has led to forest policy reforms that will accelerate forest destruction through conversion to large-scale plantations," says a statement released by environmental groups - including the Malaysian Nature Society and Friends of the Earth Australia, and WALHI, an Indonesian organisation.

"In Russia, government leaders are entering into deals to sell off natural resources for valuable hard currency."

"Rather than reducing barriers to trade, we must reduce barriers to sustainability," says David Gordon of the California-based Pacific
Environment and Resources Centre.

The driving force behind forest exploitation in the Asia Pacific is the ever increasing consumption of wood products, primarily - mostly by Western Europe, North America, and Japan. A reduction in
trade barriers on these products would encourage the production and consumption of such products because the lower price will make them more competitive with synthetic products, say environmentalists.

According to United Nations and government forecasts compiled by the Sweden-based Taiga Rescue Network, the global consumption of paper and paperboard is expected to continue to increase by 70 to 80 percent from 1990 levels (estimated at 45 kg per capita) until the year 2010.

The fastest paper consumption growth is expected for the Asia Pacific region - estimated to increase by 50-59 tonnes per year per capita between 1990-2010.

Forest product tariff reduction will have long-term effects on forest ecosystems and "liberalisation will affect the health of watersheds and communities," say environmentalists.

Because the loss of natural forest ecosystems in the Pacific Rim has a large impact on indigenous people these communities should be consulted when trade in forest products is negotiated, they add.

"This proposal has been developed in an undemocratic manner without full and active participation from local communities," says Paige Fischer with the Pacific Environment and Resources Centre.

"Traditional land-users can best steward the forests... sustainable development or conservation initiatives must include the informed consent and full participation of local affected communities and
indigenous peoples, both men and women."

Groups also are concerned that governments in the region are not taking precautions to protect indigenous communities from multinational corporations interested in patenting products
originating from these forest regions.

"We call on all governments, particularly the members of APEC, to come up with regulations at the local, national, and regional levels that will recognize and protect the rights of indigenous and
local communities over these resources," their joint statement says.

While local communities were not consulted on the most recent trade proposal, environmentalists say trade officials often look to the forest product industry for advice on policy.

The Industry Sector Advisory Committees, and other consultative bodies organised by U.S. trade officials are made up of industry representatives including the Washington-based American Forest and Paper Association (AFPA), which actively lobbies for the reduction of tariffs of trade products because it saves them money "The action by APEC is of critical importance to the U.S. forest
products industry, the largest in the world," says a statement by the association. "A global, tariff-free market for forest products is the number one international priority of AFPA."

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