Meet the Logger Barons

Geneva - According to a report by the independent London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), the $100 billion timber industry is "running out of control" and threatens "the extermination of most of the world's species and massive social and economic disturbance."With Nigeria and Ghana's forests already logged to near-extinction, the price of mahogany and teak has nearly tripled, triggering a frenzied rush to capture and log the world's remaining forests. Asian timber companies are active in 20 different countries. They already have purchased 8.6 million acres in Brazil's Amazon forest and, within two years, could control 22.2 million acres - nearly 15 percent of the Amazon's harvestable trees.The EIA report found that transnational firms dominate 95 percent of the timber trade. A mere 17 companies -- mostly based in Asia -- control nearly 45 million hectares of forest (111 million acres), an area as large as Sweden. Japan's Mitsubishi (the world's largest corporation) topped EIA's list as the planet's leading "forest rapist.""What we are witnessing today is a relatively new trend of 'South-South colonialism,'" Marcus Colchester, of the UK-based World Rainforest Movement, told the Associated Press (AP). "Asian [timber companies] are the worst," added Jean-Paul Jeanreneaud of the World Wide Fund for Nature. "They are more cavalier -- less concerned about environmental and social issues."The EIA found the timber giants Dia-showa (Japan), Musa (Indonesia), Mac-millan Bloedel and Interfor (Canada), Hyundai (South Korea), Rimbunan Hijau (Malaysia), Georgia-Pacific, Stone Container and Weyerhaeuser (US) all had engaged in "illegal practices." Companies charged with "environmental vandalism" included Mitsubishi and New Oji (Japan), Samling (Malaysia), Rougier (France), Klunz and Karl Danzer (Germany), Enso Oy (Finland) and Boise Cascade (US).Mitsubishi -- a powerful multinational with timber operations on every continent -- has ignored environmental concerns and broken national laws, making the firm, in the words of the EIA, "one of the greatest corporate threats to the world's forests."Hyundai, in addition to clearcutting large sections of forest in Siberia, also has won the right to log 12 percent of Cambodia's forests (after filing a logging agreement that ran a scant four pages).Musa has left a swath of environmental damage in Surinam. It also left $9 million in bribes in the pockets of local politicians. The report accuses Georgia-Pacific, the largest US importer of tropical hardwoods, of responding to rainforest destruction with "half-measures and doublespeak."Boise Cascade, under fire for rapacious logging practices in the US, now plans to log 400,000 hectares (988,000 acres) of old-growth pine and fir in Mexico. The EIA report cited the Karl Danzer company for "unsustainable and grossly wasteful" activities in Zaire and for leaving a "trail of destruction" in Cameroon.In Guyana, the Barama Co. (Malaysia-South Korea) controls a logging concession half as large as Belgium. In the Solomon Islands, seven government officials accepted bribes from a Malaysian timber firm that plans to remove all the island's forests within 10 years. On the island of Pavuvu, a pro-logging government stood by while Maving Brothers (Malaysia) removed half the forests and an anti-logging community leader was killed.Cambodia has sold nearly all its available forestland to logging firms. Macro-Panin and Samling (Indonesia) have snatched up 3.4 million and 1.9 million acres, respectively, of these forests.In August, a joint World Bank-United Nations study warned that logging threatens half the world's 5 billion acres of tropical forest. According to the EIA, tropical logging operations are pushing an estimated 27,000 species of animal and plant life toward extinction.The price of admission to log the world's vanishing forests frequently takes the form of a political bribe. As the AP explained: "Many Asian companies gain footholds through hostile takeovers or by buying concessions from locals. Often cemented by bribes, they form alliances with the elites that enable them to skirt laws, win virtually every legal caseŠ and sometimes affect national legislation."The payoff is blatantly visible in Asian timber capitals like Kuching, Malaysia, where, as the AP reports, "a one-time backwater on the island of Borneo now [is] studded with high-rise hotels and gleaming government buildings erected largely from timber profits."This is the tragic legacy of a world economic system fed by short-term greed. As irreplaceable forests fall, urban high-rises spring up as ghostly monuments to mark their passing.

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