Antwerp, 13 July 2019. Belgian Customs and Federal Government services are currently blocking a cargo of sawn timber in the port of Antwerp, Belgium. This action follows a request from Greenpeace Belgium. The wood comes from the Chinese logging firm Wan Chuan Timber Sarl (WCTS) which has been repeatedly exposed for illegal and destructive logging operations in the rainforest of Gabon, West Africa.
Since there is a high risk that illegal timber is being imported to the European market, Greenpeace is calling on the government to immediately carry out a comprehensive investigation into all stakeholders involved, prevent the wood from entering the EU market and sanction those responsible.
A cargo of precious sawn tropical timber (padoek) is currently blocked in the Belgian port of Antwerp after that Greenpeace Belgium officially alerted the government last week. The sawn timber (cf photo) has been produced by WCTS. WCTS is exploiting a 100,000 hectare logging concession in northeast Gabon. The region is of very high ecological value due to the presence of threatened species including forest elephants, western lowland gorillas, chimpanzees and over 400 species of birds.
WCTS has a notoriously bad reputation due to flagrant violations of the forest law in Gabon. In May 2019, the NGO EIA exposed how the firm is deeply involved in illegal logging, money laundering and fiscal fraude.  The cargo that is currently blocked in the port is only the last part of a bigger timberload that was shipped from Gabon to Belgium at the end of last year. It is likely that an important part of this timber has already entered the European market. The export from WCTS wood to Belgium has been going on for at least four years.
The belgian federal government now needs to formally establish which firm(s) is/are responsible for introducing this WCTS wood into the European market. In past years, two belgian timber traders, Exott and C.B.A. (Compagnie de Bois Anvers) have been doing business with WCTS.
“Those in Belgium who trade in WCTS wood are violating the European timber regulation” says Philippe Verbelen, forest expert at Greenpeace. “The European timber regulation, which entered into force in 2013, obliges European timber traders to follow due diligence and import wood into the European market only when all measures have been taken to minimise the risk of being from an illegal source. The illegal practices by WCTS in Gabon’s rainforests have been known for many years. According to Greenpeace, anyone doing business with this firm does not respect their due diligence obligation and should be sanctioned”.
The port of Antwerp has a bad reputation as a global centre for the trade in illegally harvested wood products coming from all corners of the word. In 2017, the European Commission started a formal infringement procedure against Belgium due to the weak enforcement of the European timber legislation.
“Protecting our forests against illegal exploitation is a vital part of our global efforts against climate breakdown and the collapse of biodiversity. There should be zero tolerance for any firm involved in the illegal timber trade”, said Greenpeace forest campaigner Philippe Verbelen.
Greenpeace calls upon the Belgian government for immediate measures. “Since the European timber regulation came into force, hardly any sanctions have been imposed on Belgian timber traders, although wood from companies deeply involved in illegal logging continues to be imported”, adds Philippe Verbelen.