Rosewood Trade is a lucrative one – rosewood is the single most illegally trafficked natural product globally. This trade is primarily fuelled by enormous demand from China. The traditional Chinese Hongmu furniture market relies heavily on imported rosewood to sustain the industry. As a result, this is an industry exploited by criminals in recent years.
Rosewood logging: So what?
Rosewood is a precious commodity and has strict regulations on its trade. However, it is the world’s most trafficked natural commodity, despite its status as a protected species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Due to the surplus of demand over supply, has been known to sell in black markets for up to US$80,000 per tonne, making it an incredibly lucrative business.
Aside from its devastating environmental and economic impact, recent research suggests that illegal rosewood logging provides a hotbed for money laundering and terrorism financing, facilitated by corruption across multiple countries.
Much of the product imported into China originates primarily from Madagascar, Thailand and West Africa.
Terrorist Financing Links
Recent investigations have shown Chinese importers to source rosewood from Boko Haram controlled areas knowingly. Exporters and importers have little regard for the regions they are sourcing raw materials from due to the high value of products.
In some senses, the designation of as a protected species by CITES has worked against its conservation aims. Research suggests that the CITES rules have driven up the price for rosewood furniture in China, creating a further incentive for criminals to engage in illegal smuggling operations.
Similarly, the illicit logging issue is facilitated by local authorities, showing levels of corruption at all levels. There are frequent instances police and border officers turning a blind eye to smuggling operations due to bribing or pressure and threats from smugglers.
There are multiple instances of this species being smuggled without permits across borders. In these instances, smugglers retroactively create permits made to legitimise the sale. However, this is in contravention of CITES regulation and national laws.
Whilst international law is in place in an attempt to stop the illicit and unsustainable trade of this species, little is being done to enforce these laws. Similarly, the transnational nature of the issue means that the regulations are being policed inconsistently.
Whilst progress is being made in terms of policing at borders to prevent the shipment of this illegal species. However, this does little to slow the industry – the root cause of the problem remains that criminals will continue to trade in rosewood at low risk of prosecution, with disregard of material origin.