Wood for export: political dividends

Tetyana Kohutych, Ukrinform  9 December 2016 10:44  260139948 0141329
Wood for export: political dividends

No matter how to solve the problem with the export of our wood, it will only get worse, the Ukrinform found out.

The problem with the abolition of the moratorium on the export of raw wood is now being discussed in Ukraine by everyone and their mother. But isn't it strange that the problem of just one industry has become almost a matter of national security? After all it's just forestry. There are dozens of other industries, also noteworthy. Still, every Ukrainian - from ordinary citizens to officials - considers it their duty to speak out on this issue.

Some write angry posts accusing the leadership of the state that they want to turn the country into Europe's resource colony, their opponents say the real problem is not the abolition of the moratorium, the real problem is illegal logging and smuggling of wood. The most radical ones threaten to arrange pickets and block the roads for timber trucks...

If they want our wood, let them bring their productions here

Transcarpathian officials were among the first to respong to the statement of the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on the possible lifting of the moratorium on the export of unprocessed timber.

Hennadiy Moskal, the head of the Transcarpathian Regional State Administration, known for his position on the export of wood. once said that we can not allow the country to become a mere supplier of raw materials to Europe.

- Let's not act like aboriginal people, who gave colonists their land in exchange for glass pushpin, - he said. - Let's prove that we are a European nation that has its pride and cares about national wealth. That 600 million euro will be gone and forgotten in half a year, and the destroyed Carpathian forests will remain a national disgrace for years. Transcarpathia is the only region where forest covers more than half of its territory, and we are only in Ukraine, who do not sell timber to Europe. And so it must remain. Let European partners bring their woodworking productions and make finished products here, instead of turning Ukraine into their resource colony. I personally will ask MPs from Transcarpathia to not vote for abolition of the moratorium on the export of raw wood abroad - Moskal wrote.

It is a vital issue for us, you know

The Association of woodworking and logging companies of Western Ukraine also stronly oppose the lifting of the moratorium on the export of raw wood. They declared a general strike, and in Transcarpathia, in particular, they made two public statements on this issue. In both of them, they expressed their "unalterable opposition" to lifting the moratorium and stated that it was indeed a matter of national security.

- Currently there is no official EU document demanding Ukraine to lift the ban on exports. There are statements of top officials, but no legal documents. Those are just words and lobbying interests. Now we must protect our economy and our nature. Otherwise, we'll be left with sick forests and treeless mountains - Ivan Gabor, the chairman of the Association of woodworking companies of Transcarpathia said.

According to him, the claims that the moratorium would make state forestry enterprises unprofitable were not true.

- Transcarpathia is the only region of Ukraine, which has not exported industrial timber since the introduction of the moratorium. And it has not led to the decline of the timber industry, as skeptics predicted. On the contrary, state forestries show better performance than last year in all respects. Last year, the forestries in Transcarpathian region harvested 1.4 million cubic meters of timber. The "yield" of the state forestry enterprises has increased by 30 percent. This means that the moratorium on the export of timber does not make the forestries unprofitable - Ivan Gabor says.

- We can safely say that before the moratorium on the export of raw materials, the exports had almost entirely destroyed the domestic market. We, having 96.6 thousand sq km of forest area, do not make the final product, but import the entire range of woodworking industry from Europe and China. Meanwhile, according to our data, during the year, the moratorium has improved the industry. We have recorded a growth of taxes from the industry by 18%, of export - by 12%, of imports of equipment - by $ 50 million - Ivan Gabor says. - That is why, we must not stop now. The moratorium must not be lifted. Otherwise, we will organize pickets throughout the country. It is a vital issue for us, you know, - he said.

First, we will be stopping and checking timber trucks...

Interestingly, it's not only woodworking businesses who threaten with pickets. Activists, who have long been concerned with deforestration in the Carpathians, are much more radical. Their arguments are the following: if even the moratorium on timber exports cannot solve the problem of illegal logging, then without it the Carpathians will lost all their forest completely.

- Currently, we have established a group of activists to monitor any logging in the Carpathians. Those are former ATO participants, automaidan activists, just people who care. We already have mobile teams in Verkhovyna, in Kosovo, Rakhiv, Antalovtsi, (Uzhgorod district), Velyky Berezny - activist, volunteer Andriy Boyechko said. - The fact is that no matter how the MPs vote on logging in the Carpathians, we must take the deforestation in the Carpathians under. That is, activists will be checking any logging, stopping timber trucks in the forests until the check of the documents, until the arrival of the police and prosecutors.


Moratorium is not the most important tool in the forestry management

And what about foresters? People seem to be interested in their opinion the least, despite the fact that they are experts in this field, so their words should matter the most.

The Transcarpathian Regional Forestry and Hunting Range Administration explained their stance on the issue:

- Transcarpathian region has never been an active exporter of timber, so the abolition of the moratorium will not affect the regional forestries, - the spokesperson of the Administration Yulia Davydova explained. - While in the years 2010-2014, exports of forest products amounted to 12% of total sales, in 2015 it was only 7%, and since November 1, 2015 (after the ban on the export of logs) timber exports from the region has practically stopped. Now it is only 0.5%.

All the wood harvested in our region is used by local wood processing companies that buy timber articles at auctions. The forest economy is not export-oriented. Foresters would like to see investments in the development of the wood industry in the region. It would contribute to the construction of new processing plants, new jobs, more taxes and the development of villages and cities - the press service of the Transcarpathian Regional Forestry Administration said.

Expert, forestry engineer Yuriy Derbal responded emotionally to our request to comment on the situation:

- When this law on the moratorium on the export of timber was just being prepared, I said that it was, pardon my words, idiotic. But people do not understand what all these discussions about the moratorium are really about. The thing is that this is not a matter of economy, not a matter of the industry development, but a matter of politics.Just populism, and no action. Ukraine declares European values. So, take a look at Europe - there are no restrictions there. But there is the law. So, you should do the same - cut legally, trade legally - and there will be no problems. Instead, we are looking for villains and saviors. We need to understand that forest management is a business that is based on the cultivation and sale of forest in particular. We see that the government introduces rules for the business - for example, prohibits the sale and export of logs. But at the same time, the government does not encourage its woodworking industry. This is how most Ukrainians see it. But I'll tell you that you can sell logs and make much more money on it than by selling poorly processed raw materials in the form of boards.

People are talking about the export ban, but do not talk about the need to stimulate the wood processing industry in Ukraine. Now representatives of woodworking companies are organizing rallies against abolition of the moratorium. Why don't they rally to demand loans at 1-2% for development of the woodworking business? It would help the industry much more than any moratorium.

Our government finally realized that it is necessary to develop agriculture - and they give farmers loans for new harvesters, tractors. But forest industry needs the same approach, they also need chainsaws, need new skidding systems. And, in our country it is impossible to take a lease for cable skidding.

In actuality, we must admit two things about this issue. The issue of the moratorium abolition is currently political, not economic. And secondly, moratorium is just one of the tools of forestry management. But not the most important one - the expert said.

Smuggling is the issue №1, forest is the issue №2

We asked Transcarpathian political scientists how the politics influences the forestries and what comes out as a result.

- While customs and smuggling is the political issue №1 in Transcarpathia, forest has always been the issue №2, - Mykhailo Shelemba, political scientist says. - It is evidenced by the fact that immediately after the change of the management in the region, chiefs of the regional customs and forestry are also replaced. Another feature is that these two issues constantly overlap - because contraband timber is transported across the border in Transcarpathia. Moreover, during the moratorium, there were several scandals of the national level in this regard. For example, with illegal logging and export of timber abroad on the Ukrainian-Slovak border, where the actions of the authorities caused public indignation. Now we can see various political forces and persons trying to earn points on this topic again. One can predict that with the abolition of the moratorium, there will be even more debates - Mykhailo Shelemba says.

Political scientist Victor Paschenko, the director of the Transcarpathian Institute for Political Studies believes that using this topic to gain political points, politicians are playing themselves into a corner.

- The politicians's comments on this topic are just noisy speculations. The problem of forest here in Transcarpathia is like a problem of coal in the Donbass. It's easy money, and if you prohibit to do it legally, they will do it illegally.        

In my view, a rational way out of this situation would be to keep the moratorium on the export of raw materials, but at the same time, to create favorable investment conditions for European woodworking enterprises. Let them do business here. Yes, it will be next to impossible here, because we do not look attractive to investors due to corruption. Yet, in this situation, I think it would be the best solution - the analyst says.

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