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Environmental Groups Hail Decision on Mahogany Trade - 2002-11-14

Environmental groups are hailing the decision by delegates at a U.N. conference to curb the international trade of mahogany, the most valuable hardwood species in the Amazon basin. The decision was reached in Santiago, Chile, at a meeting of the U.N. Convention of International Trade on Endangered Species, known by its acronym CITES.

By an overwhelming vote, delegates attending the CITES conference in Santiago late Wednesday decided to impose tighter controls on the mahogany trade. The measure, proposed by Guatemala and Nicaragua, is aimed at protecting the valuable hardwood from disappearing because of overharvesting.

Countries like Brazil will have one year to bring their practices into compliance with the new rules. However, the measure does not apply to countries like Indonesia and Malaysia where the species has been artificially introduced.

Brazil opposed the move, saying its conservation policies are enough to protect mahogany. It also argued that imposing tighter controls would harm free trade. Boliva and Peru joined Brazil in opposing the measure, which now lists big-leaf mahogany as an endangered species.

Environmentalists attending the Santiago meeting hailed Tuesday's vote. Paulo Adario of Greenpeace, who spearheaded a publicity campaign to draw attention to the issue, says Brazil was unable to convince delegates that its conservation measures were effective enough. "I think public opinion and governments, particularly the EU and the United States, knew very well that Brazil was claiming to be able to control the harvesting of this timber, but in fact it didn't have the capacity," said Mr. Adario. "So I believe that everything that was done in the last three years helped to convince the delegates at CITES that mahogany was not protected enough."

Brazil, which produces nearly half the world's supply of the wood, outlawed the trade and transport of mahogany last year. But the trade has continued clandestinely.

The CITES meeting in Santiago is considering about 60 other proposals to either restrict or relax trade rules for different wildlife and plant species.

One-hundred-fifty seven countries are party to the Convention of International Trade on Endangered Species. The 1975 pact aims to ensure that the international trade of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.