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Japan’s new law on illegal logging only requires companies to make efforts to verify legality

  • May 29, 2016
  • , Asahi , p. 2
  • Translation

On May 13 in advance of the G7 Summit (Ise-Shima Summit), the Diet unanimously passed Japan’s first-ever law to regulate the distribution of illegally logged timber. Illegal logging leads to environmental degradation, human rights violations, and unfair trade among other issues, and has been raised at the G7 Summit every year since 1998. “The elimination of illegal logging” was also included in the G7 Ise-Shima Leaders’ Declaration. Japan’s new law will go into effect in one year’s time; however, it is questionable how serious the government is about addressing the issue.

 

The new law calls on companies to fully confirm the legality of timber and timber products, and the government will determine later the standards for making such assessments. However, companies are only obligated to make efforts to verify legality. It is also unknown how strict the standards will be. The Japanese law is weak compared to those in the United States, Europe, and Australia where companies are obligated to confirm legality, and malicious cases, including negligence in verifying legality, are subject to penalties.

 

Junichi Mishiba, executive director of Friends of the Earth Japan, says, “Japan’s new law does not obligate [companies] to verify legality and so illegally logged timber cannot be eliminated.”

 

There are many gray zones in illegally logged timber by its nature. According to Japan’s Forestry Agency, there is no internationally agreed upon definition of illegal logging. It covers logging in protected areas, logging that goes beyond permitted tree species and permitted volume, and logging that illegally infringes on the rights of indigenous people, but there are many cases where the government overseeing the logged area does not recognize the activity as illegal even if suspicions are laid out in NGO investigations and lawsuits.

 

It is hard to ascertain the actual status of illegal logging, and corruption in the local area also plays a role. INTERPOL estimates that illegal logging accounts for 15–30% of global timber trade. Britain’s Royal Institute of International Affairs, commonly known as Chatham House, estimated in 2013 that about 12% of timber products (excluding paper) imported by Japan may have been made from illegally logged timber.

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