27 May 2005

Ghana Timber Exporters to Lose EU Market

...As Government Fails to Convert Concessions to TUCs

... Over $100m accrued as non-payment of Timber Rights Fees

The European Union (EU), which imports about 60% of Ghana timber yearly, has threatened not to purchase timber from Ghana, due to the government's failure to convert concessions to Timber Utilization Contracts (TUC).

According to sources, the EU had shown displeasure at the manner in which Ghana loses $100 million annually from the nonpayment of Timber Rights Fees.

Statistics have revealed that about $520 trillion, has been projected to be gained from the payment of Timber Rights Fees by Ghanaian timber contractors over a spate of 30 years.

The amount is supposed to go to the benefit of mainly the communities in which concessions were located, as social responsibility of the timber industries.

Chronicle investigations have revealed that the EU has been putting pressure on the Ghanaian government to adhere to sustainable forest management and legal practices in the forest sector.

Further investigations revealed that last week, a team of experts flew to the country to have discussions with the Forestry Commission, and intimated their last warning on the recalcitrance of the government to meet the world requirements for timber exportations.

The Minister of Lands, Forestry and Mines, Prof Dominic Fobih, responding to Chronicle enquiries in an interview, said it was partially true that the EU had issued a threat.

He said the EU was rather helping the ministry meet the world market requirements as well as getting rid of illegal timber activities, which process is very involving.

According to the Minister, the conversion of concessions to TUCs had been a slow process because it entailed many things, pointing out that, "The conversion is a process, a new process, so we need to sensitize the stakeholders."

Prof Fobih said, initially, the conversion brought confusion to the timber industry but now, the stakeholders had accepted the move and were willing to support the implementation.

He said all the concessions that had expired had been put in a pool for competitive bidding, whiles the rest that had not expired would also go for bidding very soon.

Speaking to The Chronicle, the Coordinator of Forest Watch, Ghana, Mr. Alhassan Adams said there were many illegalities in the requirements for timber exportations.

The transitional period of six months provided after the passage of the law, for the government to convert all concessions to TUCs have been flouted, since timber dealers are still harvesting from concessions.

He said the use of the Timber Utilization Permit (TUP) was meant for social purposes, that is, both communities and Non-governmental Organizations, not for commercial purposes.

He noted that some timber companies have been able to acquire TUPs for commercial purposes.

Mr. Adams reiterated that the use of Salvage Permits for commercial logging was also illegal.

He was of the view that the Ministry of Lands and Forestry had not been able to convert concessions to TUCs because the timber companies were strong lobbyists, adding that many politicians owned timber companies, whilst the timber companies were also the main financiers of political parties.

Statistics compiled by the Timber Industry Development Division, indicated that from January to May last year, export of wood products stood at 65,916,365 Euros and 174, 477m3 as against 68,745,967 Euros and 182,432m3, indicating decreases of 4.12% in value and 4.36% in volume over the same period last year.

Out of the total exports in 2004, Europe recorded 56.25%, Asia/Far East, 13.65%, America, 12.39%, Middle East, 9.53%, Africa7.01%, and Oceania, 1.17%.

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