In the latest step toward fighting illegal logging, the European Union and Cameroon have signed an agreement to ensure shipments of wood products to Europe are licensed. The deal is aimed at helping to preserve the vast rainforest of Africa's Congo Basin.
Under the agreement, all timber products shipped to Europe are required by 2012 to carry licenses showing they have been legally harvested.
Cameroon is Africa's largest exporter of timber products to Europe, and 80 percent of its wood exports head to the European Union. It also is a member of the countries of the Congo Basin, which holds the world's second-largest tropical forest, after the Amazon.
In remarks during the signing ceremony in Brussels, European development commissioner Andris Piebalgs outlined the larger issues at stake. "It goes beyond just trade ... it is more about sustainability of the whole planet. It is a mechanism so comprehensive that I really believe this is a good example for others to follow. And for us, as consumers, to think in a sustainable way."
Under the deal, Cameroon will set up a national system to ensure timber production and sales are legal, not only to the European Union, but within domestic and non-European markets as well.
The forests of the Congo Basin are considered critical for biodiversity - and also in the fight against global warming. Without restrictions, though, the international environmental group WWF says that by 2015, Cameroon and two other Congo Basin countries - the Central African Republic and Congo Brazzaville - risk having their so-called "old growth forests" completely razed in unprotected areas.
Geert Lejeune heads Africa programs at WWF Belgium. "When you let a company into the forest, a primary forest, very often roads are opened and poaching can go on. People can start cutting legally and illegally, and so we enter into a pathway of destruction."
Lejeune praises the agreement between the European Union and Cameroon, but says other Congo Basin countries must reach similar agreements and the deals must ensure Africans living in these regions reap some of the benefits.