“The forest is our wealth! Keep the forest away from the fire! ‒ since the childhood, I remember such slogans along the forest trails. There is no doubt that fire is the enemy of trees, but a human is even a greater enemy. The destruction of the forest by human beings cannot be compared with the elemental force of the flame. And to curb our appetites is more difficult than to eliminate forest fires.
They couldn’t care less about the moratorium!
The smuggling of the timber in Ukraine is a major phenomenon. Everyone seems to understand the seriousness of the problem, but almost every day the media reports on the illegal exportation of entire echelons with a round timber under the guise of firewood.
Igor Guzhva, the Doctor of Economic Sciences, an expert in international trade of the NGO “Center for the Development of Market Economy”, said: “Almost the entire timber business is in shadow, it is unknown who gives the permission for its cutting, how it is exported, how it crosses the border. If you look at the Ukrainian statistics, there is practically no export of round timber, there is a ban. But there is an export of firewood and other wood. When we open the EU statistics, we see that in different countries ‒ Romania, Poland, Germany ‒ they import roundwood”.
The protection of domestic forests from illegal logging and export is disrupted for a long time. Since November 2015, there has been a moratorium on the export of roundwood.
Viktor Galasyuk, the chairman of the Committee on Industrial Policy and Entrepreneurship, deputy leader of the Radical Party of Lyashko on economic policy, told to Opinion: “We with Oleh Lyashko and like-minded people in the Parliament have made the introduction of a ten-year moratorium on the export of roundwood from Ukraine. The moratorium is not only for environmental reasons, but it also gives big economic benefits. Only in 2017, according to the State Fiscal Service and the State Statistics Service of Ukraine, the investments in wood processing gave plus 2 billion UAH (double growth), non-commodity exports – plus 4 billion UAH, tax revenues – plus 400 million UAH. Hundreds of new productions and thousands of workplaces have been created all over the country thanks to the moratorium.
It can bring even more benefits, investments, jobs, and income for Ukrainians ‒ provided that the smuggling of timber is blocked. But due to the inaction of the Ukrainian authorities, connivance of smugglers, “black foresters” and European corporations, Ukraine was turned into a colony-supplier of raw materials. According to a study by the international organization Earthsight “Affected by the corruption”: “The EU probably imports more illegally extracted timber from Ukraine than from all countries in Latin America, Africa, and Southeast Asia combined, and more than from any other country in the world”.
In the opinion of Mr. Galasyuk, closing its eyes to violations of the ban on the export of unprocessed timber from Ukraine, the EU, in fact, feeds large-scale corruption and destroys the legal mechanisms in our country.
According to the experts, a ten-year ban is appropriate, but it’s not possible to fully protect the forests because of the unformed normative base, the lack of adequate fines. After all, they cut down, for example, 10 hectares of trees, and get a fine of several hundred hryvnias. On the agenda was to change the legislation, increase fines, to give the ability to open not only administrative but also criminal cases.
On July 3 of this year, the Verkhovna Rada adopted Law No. 5495 “On Amending Certain Laws of Ukraine Concerning the Preservation of Ukrainian Forests and Prevention of Illegal Export of Unprocessed Timber”, which increases the responsibility for illegal logging and its export.
The law provides for the introduction, temporarily, for a period of 8 years from the day of its entry into the force, of the prohibition of the export of timber outside Ukraine’s customs territory. And the volume of domestic consumption of raw timber should not exceed 25 million cubic meters per year, regardless of the volume of their domestic consumption in the previous year. The punishment also increased, it is recorded as changes in the Code of Ukraine on Administrative Offenses. Penalties for illegal cutting and destruction of forest crops and young trees have been increased several times for individual citizens and officials. For the latter, a maximum is of 600 non-taxable minimum incomes of citizens..
The Criminal Code has also undergone changes in the issue of squandering forests abroad. It was suggested to imprison the perpetrators from three to five years, and in case of repeated violation or prior agreement by a group of persons or an official ‒ for a period from five to ten years with confiscation of property. The fine for illegal deforestation (Article 246 of the Criminal Code) increased twenty-fold, to 1,000 – 1,500 non-taxable minimums. With repeated violations ‒ imprisonment for up to five years. It will be hard for those, who destroy the reserves ‒ a fine of 2,000 minimums and imprisonment for five years.
The position of the President
Law No. 5495 should enter into the force on January 1, 2019, after being signed by the President. However, the Head of state vetoed the document. He returned it to the Parliament for revision, proposing to exclude the total ban on the export of firewood.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister has headed the struggle to preserve the native forests. In midsummer, Volodymyr Groysman initiated large-scale inspections of forest industry enterprises in connection with the illegal export of timber abroad. The head of Government instructed the GPU to check the facts of forest smuggling, appealed to the partners from the EU for information on the supply of domestic timber products. The Prime Minister threatened, that those who involved in illegal logging and smuggling of the forest will be responsible for that.
By mid-September, the Government should prepare a public report with names and analysts, as required by the Head of the Cabinet. The Prime Minister promised to refer cases to the Supreme Anti-Corruption Court. According to him, forest smuggling reached volumes of 6-8 billion UAH per year. Ukrainians should finally know not only how many forests they’ve lost, but when and how they can be restored. Volodymyr Groysman ordered to “Ukrzaliznytsya” to fix forest transportation, document the process, transfer photos to control services, in order to track the chain of conspiracies.
Viktor Galasyuk stressed: “From this report, we will see how real and thorough was the comprehensive verification of the forest households. The smuggling of almost 14,000 roundwood cars for 2017 ‒ this is not a needle in a haystack! Namely, this scale of smuggling id based on the analysis conducted by the experts of the Radical Party, and also on Earthsight’s study”.
Igor Guzhva said: “We can even see the intermediate results of these inspections. The acting head of the SFS reported on the government portal on the first results. 100 companies have been verified, 80 of them got claims (the events of August ‒ the author’s note). We see the first sanctions, according to which the Cabinet reported in detail: how many were checked, how many fines were accrued, how much did the taxes to the budget increase, VAT refunds due to illegal exports were terminated. Until the end of the year, it is planned to check about 450 companies. When the authorities want, they can, in principle. The key question is political will”.
Will the issue of overcoming the president’s veto be brought to the attention of the Verkhovna Rada? On assurances of Viktor Galasyuk, the struggle for this will last from the first day of the new session of the Parliament.
Mr. Galasyuk noted: “The President’s veto on the ban on the export of firewood, under the guise of which the Ukrainian forest is illegally brought to the EU is a great gift to the “black foresters”, the forest smugglers and the European competitors of Ukrainian woodworkers. Bankova Street insist on the deletion of the norm from the Law No. 5495, that prohibits the export of firewood, formally covering itself with the Association Agreement with the EU. But both the current moratorium on timber exports and the parliament’s support for the ban on firewood exports fall under the exceptions to the Association Agreement with the EU and the WTO Agreement”.
The ban or significant restrictions on the export of round timber are active in more than 30 countries. In particular, in Canada (since 1906), the USA (since 1926), Brazil (since 1969), Malaysia (since 1972), Indonesia (since 1985), Vietnam (since 1992 .), New Zealand (since 1993).
The report is being prepared
The State Forest Resources Agency informed Opinion that as a result of the government’s instructions, a working group was set up to check for 2016-2017 and the first half of 2018 state enterprises related to the management of the Agency and other business entities, whose activities are related to deforestation and timber exports. As part of the group, the representatives of the State Audit Service, the State Service of Ukraine on Geodesy, Cartography and Cadastre, the State Fiscal Service, the State Border Service, the National Police, the State Environmental Inspectorate, the Ministry of Agrarian Policy, the Defense Ministry and the State Forest Resources Agency of Ukraine. The working groups are also established at the territorial level.
The verification will last more than a month, until September 14. On August 27, it covered 71 SEs and a half dozen of the State Forest Resources Agency of Ukraine, 4 utility companies and the central office of the Agency. However, representatives of this structure are not attracted to the meetings in the Cabinet, and they do not know at what stage the verification process is.
However, only 73% of Ukraine’s forests are subordinated to the State Forest Resources Agency of Ukraine. And 27% ‒ other users, in particular, the central authorities and the regional council. Wood chopped in the forests of the State Forest Resources Agency of Ukraine is registered in the electronic accounting system. The Agency developed and submitted to the CMU a draft resolution on the introduction of a unified state system of electronic logging for distribution to other forest users.
Until 2017, there was a moratorium on the export of unprocessed timber, except for pine. Since 2017, a complete ban on their export (except for firewood) has been introduced. To prevent abuses, the State Forest Resources Agency of Ukraine limited the length of wood for export by two meters for the forest households, subordinate to departments. The Agency’s enterprises annually procure about 9 million cubic meters of wood. Around 4,200,000 cubic meters of firewood are sold to the population, institutions, and organizations of the social sphere and the enterprises of the internal market, about 0.3 million cubic meters is sent for processing and energy needs of enterprises. The volume of firewood exports during the period 2015-2017 has decreased. For 7 months of this year, the enterprises exported 530 thousand cubic meters of firewood, which is 7 thousand cubic meters less than the same period last year.
Do they cut less?
So, the checks, initiated by the Government are continuing, some experts are convinced that the smuggling of timber has started to decline. And how do people’s deputies assess the situation?
Andrii Nemyrovsky said to Opinion: “According to the information that comes to me as the Head of the subcommittee (on prevention and combating corruption in the sphere of ecology and environmental protection of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Prevention and Combating Corruption, ‒ the author’s note), deforestation does not decrease, but on the contrary, increases under different slogans. Even sanitation does not only fall on trees that really need it, but also on quite normal ones. Also in many places, where trees are cut down, they don’t restore forest plantations. Statistics as such are not there, but every day we receive information, mainly from Western Ukraine, Zhytomyr, Kyiv, that a certain amount of forest has been cut down in this or that place”.
Viktor Galasyuk told: “It has been reported from the localities that the smugglers have suspended the business, but they say “we must wait”, they say, “everything will be as it was before soon. They expect that the government will approach formally to fulfill promises to overcome contraband. But I am convinced ‒ criminals are wrong. At stake are the image of the state and the personal reputation of Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman and Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, who on the part of the executive branch, took personal control of stopping these shameful contraband schemes”.
According to Mr. Galasyuk, they together with members of the party will contribute, “so that the moratorium on the export of the forest would act in full”. And Mr. Nemyrovsky assured: the draft law, submitted in the Verkhovna Rada in 2016 No. 431 should be considered at the forthcoming session. It is proposed to prohibit the illegal destruction of forests, the issue should be equated with the matter of state security.
We shouldn’t forget not only the economy but also the environmental factor. Petro Tiestov, an analyst at the Ecology-Right-Human MBO, warned: there is a lot of untruthful information on forests on the Internet, but this problem is impressive. The expert described the situation in the forestry sector in the following publication.
Mr. Tiestov noted: “Ukraine is not behind the times African country, where the wood is cut uncontrolled and not planted again. We have had forestry for centuries, most of the forests are artificial, several times cut down and planted. The main negative impacts of improper forest management are the loss of biodiversity, especially those species of animals and plants that are tied to old forests that are being cut down intensively, soil erosion, flood risks, and deterioration of air around large settlements”.
Recently, the specialists of the Ecology-Right-Human MBO pointed out that the moratorium is not a panacea for saving forests ‒ it is connected primarily with the economy, not with ecology. Systemic reforms of the forestry sector are necessary. For example, a serious problem is due to the lack of a single document, regulating all types of cuttings.
Although the attention is focused mainly on the Carpathians, Petro Tiestov drew attention to the problems in each area. For example, in the Tsumanska Pushcha in Volyn region or Savran forest in the north of Odesa region.
And the “dessert” for Opinion readers ‒ video of the investigation byTranscarpathian journalists on how the leader of the state forestry enterprise, a former policeman, provided a bright future for his family by destroying local forests.
By Viktor Tsvilikhovsky