Building capacity to help Africa trade better

When good intentions go awry – timber transit through Zambia


When good intentions go awry – timber transit through Zambia

Willemien Viljoen, tralac Researcher, comments on Zambia’s recent efforts to curb illicit timber trade and deforestation

At a time when the world looks at multilateral and regional initiatives to facilitate transit trade intra-SADC transit traffic along the Walvis Bay – Ndola – Lumbumbashi Development Corridor (WBNL) has been dealt a blow by Zambia.

Zambia is home to numerous exotic timber tree species, including the Makulu tree. Per the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime exotic hardwood is the single-most smuggled commodity in the world. There is a high demand for the raw wood; i.e. untreated wood and round logs of these exotic species in Asian markets, most notably China and Vietnam. To curb illicit timber trade and deforestation, and to promote value addition and beneficiation in the Zambian timber industry, the Zambian government has previously introduced a moratorium on the harvesting and export of Mukula and other timber species. This moratorium was lifted in May 2013 and this led to an increase in the trade of these commodities. As of December 2015, the Zambian Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources has been issuing timber export permits in accordance with Statutory Instrument 94 of 2015 and the Forest Regulations of 2015 to curb rising exports. On 31 May 2017, the Ministry announced further trade limitations; a ban on the export of untreated (round wood or logs) timber of all tree species, which came into immediate effect. Furthermore, a ban was placed on the movement of these commodities beyond 100 kilometres of the concession zone; to promote value addition and local job creation. The Road Transport and Safety Agency (RTSA) and the Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) were mandated to impound any truck travelling beyond the 100 kilometre zone carrying Zambian raw timber.

Although the ban was only applicable to timber harvested in Zambia, it led to trucks (mainly from Namibia) carrying untreated wood from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) bound for export via Walvis Bay being impounded. This has created a logistical nightmare and a diplomatic conflict between Namibia and Zambia. More than 200 Namibian trucks were impounded and drivers were detained (costing transporters close to N$100 million). For over five months goods bound for inland transportation from Walvis Bay to the rest of southern Africa have been piling up due to a shortage of available transporter trucks. Many of the trucks impounded have all the relevant export documentation and were allowed to enter Zambia, but were later detained, while in transit and hence travelling beyond the 100 kilometre concession zone, even though the timber being carried was harvested outside Zambia. On 13 June 2017, the Zambian Minister of Lands and Natural Resources, Jean Kapata, released a statement, indicating that the last months have been used to inspect the cargo and export documentation of these transporter trucks and those found to have valid documentation will be released with immediate effect. However, this will be the last timber shipments allowed to transit through Zambia. On 1 April 2017, the Zambian Ministry announced that all ‘in transit’ (road and rail) raw timber on Zambian soil transported by foreigners will be banned with immediate effect. No lag time was announced; this has resulted in hundreds of trucks being stuck at the DRC and Tanzanian borders; being refused access to Zambia due to the timber loads they are carrying.

Although this intervention had good intentions (to clamp down on illicit trade of valuable natural resources; job creation and value addition) the ‘in transit’ ban has ruffled some feathers. Namibia and the DRC have accused Zambia of violating the WBNL Agreement; no prior consultations took place among the countries per the Agreement on any measures to be implemented that will affect the operation of the corridor. Also, the costs for transporters of Tanzania, Namibia and South Africa are adding up; due to the lack of prior communication these transporters now have numerous trucks being held up at borders. Furthermore, Namibian and South African transporters carrying loads inland normally transport timber as a return load to cut the cost of transportation; this will no longer be possible. Either new routes must be found or these transit limitations will have a direct impact on consumers in the DRC, Tanzania and other countries in east Africa. Without profitable return loads, there will either be less transport available or transport will be at a significantly higher cost; having cost implications not only for intra-regional transporters, but also cost implications for firms in the region processing timber and welfare implications for consumers in the relevant countries. 



COMESA, EAC and SADC NTB Reporting, Monitoring and Eliminating Mechanism (http://www.tradebarriers.org/active_complaints/page:1/sort:date_of_incident/direction:desc)

Lusaka Times (https://www.lusakatimes.com/2017/06/02/trade-muffled-zambia-holds-onto-namibian-trucks/)

Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (http://www.znbc.co.zm/?p=55677)

Namibia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (https://cms.my.na/assets/documents/p1bhfimjftl2k1009h0u18db1j2k4.pdf)

National Assembly of Zambia (http://www.parliament.gov.zm/node/6291)


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