Poached Timber: Rosewood Crisis in Mali and Unprecedented Opportunity for a Regional Solution

Washington, DC – As the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is deliberating about a regional trade ban that would end what is arguably the most brazen violation of the Convention, a new investigation from the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) shows how the illegal and unsustainable trade in rosewood from Mali has fueled corruption, driven pressure on communities and activists, and has been used as a conduit for ivory trafficking between West Africa and China. 

The rosewood crisis has devastated West African forests and its people for almost a decade. EIA’s reports on Nigeria, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, and The Gambia have shown how Illegal and unsustainable trade in Pterocarpus erinaceus has persisted despite its listing on CITES Appendix II, which came into effect more than five years ago, on January 2, 2017. Thorough research indicates that most, if not all, of the trade in Pterocarpus erinaceus from West Africa to Asia has taken place in violation of the Convention. According to EIA’s analysis, as of April 2022, this represents a total of over 3 million tons and more than 2 billion dollars of illegally traded rosewood between West Africa and China.   

In March 2022, unprecedented action was taken under CITES at the 74th meeting of the Standing Committee in response to West African countries’ request. Due to ongoing and pervasive illegal trade in Pterocarpus erinaceus, an expedited compliance procedure was triggered. Countries were given until April 27 to either demonstrate that their exports are legal and sustainable or set a zero export quota. If countries fail to do so, they will face a trade suspension “to ensure the sustainability and viability of the remaining trees.”

At the time of publication, the deadline for countries to submit information has passed and information submitted is under review by the CITES Secretariat and Chairs of the Standing and Plants Committees. The current review and decision that should be public in the coming weeks is highly significant. Raphael Edou, Africa Program Manager for EIA’s Forest Campaigns explains: “Several West African nations have shown the world that, despite the incredible socio-economic challenges they are currently facing, they are serious about protecting the livelihoods of their people, vulnerable forests, and our common future. I hope this lesson will be heard by the Global North.”

EIA’s new findings, presented in the Poached Timber report, highlight the importance and urgency of a regional solution to the rosewood crisis. The report focuses on Mali, a country that has faced two coups since June 2020 and a jihadist insurgency. EIA’s investigators found that  trafficking networks have established deep roots in the country. Illegal and unsustainable trade appears to be the norm rather than the exception. EIA’s findings also indicate that invalid CITES export permits (with some critical information missing) have been commonly used to export rosewood from Mali to China. Illegal rosewood trade has also been a conduit for ivory trafficking, in particular facilitating the smuggling of Gourma elephant (Loxodonta africana) tusks to China. Gourma elephant populations have been described as on the edge of annihilation. According to EIA’s report, the violation of Malian law, which prohibits in particular the export of Pterocarpus erinaceus logs, has relied on well-oiled corruption practices allegedly involving members of the Ministry of the Environment, Sanitation and Sustainable Development and the Forestry Administration. 

 West African countries’ leadership and CITES momentum has driven an immediate double commitment by AP Moller-Maersk, the largest shipping company in the world, to stop transporting rosewood from Mali and support the possible regional ban by increased due diligence efforts. EIA looks forward to the Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) and Compagnie Maritime d’Affrètement-Compagnie Générale Maritime (CMA-CGM), the two other major companies allegedly involved in transporting illegal timber shipments from Mali, to join this effort. 

Only a united front of West African countries, China, international institutions, and shipping lines will defeat one of the most powerful forest trafficking networks on the planet.

Read the report

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