A variety of colorful container boxes

Millions of tons in illegal logs shipped from Mozambique to China

Some of this trade finances insurgency in the Cabo Delgado province

During a multi-year investigation, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) found that since 2017 an average of over 500,000 tons per year of timber has been exported from Mozambique to China in violation of  the country’s log export ban, and a portion of this trade also finances violent insurgents. The laundering of this illegal and conflict timber is made possible by systemic corrupt practices in the timber sector, while the transport between Mozambique and China relies on insufficient due diligence from global shipping lines.

In August 2022, President Nyusi of Mozambique launched a multi-country Miombo Forest Initiative to protect the region’s tropical forests. Mozambique has already lost millions of hectares of forests to unregulated and often illegal logging practices, damaging the country’s biodiversity and livelihoods. With one of the lowest incomes per capita in Africa, Mozambique loses an estimated half a billion U.S. dollars per year to illegal logging and associated trade. Most of that trade is in the form of unprocessed logs, more than 90% of which are exported to China, carried by global shipping lines, all in violation of Mozambique’s log export ban. 

EIA also found that Chinese traders purchase “conflict timber” from Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jamaah (ASWJ) insurgents in Cabo Delgado, and mix and export it alongside other wood. Since 2017, ASWJ insurgents have occupied Cabo Delgado, terrorizing the population and trafficking in timber, among other illicit goods, to finance their activities. Mozambique is on the international Financial Action Task Force (FATF) gray list due to the high risk of money laundering from wildlife trade and terrorist financing.

“Log export bans are critical to protecting forests, sustaining livelihoods, and better jobs,” says Raphael Edou, Africa Program Director for EIA-US. “Mozambique must strengthen its forest protections by enforcing its own regulations, and China and the global shipping lines must respect Mozambican laws, and investigate the bad actors systematically violating them.” 

A key purpose for a log export ban is to retain more of the value of the resource domestically. In its investigation, EIA found that logs purchased for the equivalent of a few dollars in Mozambique end up sold as furniture in China, sometimes for tens of thousands of dollars. Some precious species, such as pau-preto (Dalbergia melanoxylon, since 2017 listed on Appendix II of CITES), are made into replica antique furniture for display at prestigious events such as the G20, or sold by luxury lifestyle brands like Hermes-founded and Exor-owned Shang Xia.

International shipping lines have an important role to play in stopping the trafficking of illegal and conflict timber. EIA found that since 2019, shipping lines including CMA-CGM, Maersk, MSC, and United Africa Feeder Lines (UAFL), have carried tens of thousands of timber consignments from Mozambique. Traders sometimes misdeclare the timber as being processed, or omit any description of the timber, as indicated by discrepancies in shipping and customs data, and nearly 90,000 tons since 2019 was actually declared in shipping documentation as being in unprocessed, log form and shipped despite the log export ban. . 

In 2021, Maersk and UAFL returned 66 containers of illegal wood back to Mozambique that had been smuggled out of the country and were on their way to China, after the Government of Mozambique launched an investigation. But isolated action is not enough. “Shipping lines need to stop facilitating this illegal trade and ensure they stop shipping logs from Mozambique entirely,” said Edou. 

EIA urges the government of Mozambique to commit more resources to forest governance and transparency in the timber trade sector, to honor President Nyusi’s Miombo Initiative. Global shipping lines must cease transporting illegal timber from Mozambique, and China must cease importing it, in line with President Xi’s commitments to combat illegal deforestation.