A substantial part of world trade is composed of tropical forest products and many tropical countries are dependent almost entirely upon them. Approximately US$90 billion worth of food and other products are extracted from forests (of all types) each year (Pimentel, et al., 1997). These countries are at the mercy of resource prices, which are generally undervalued. Most of the profits from natural resources are derived from the sale of products in developed countries, while the environmental costs of resource extraction remain with the producing country. In addition, if prices decline, the latter must increase their production of commodities. Some of these inequities could be addressed by revisions of trade barriers.

a. Establishment of import barriers for tropical rainforest goods: Tropical forest products could be excluded from importation into a country if their collection results in the degradation or destruction of the forests from which they come, or if their production involves deforestation. Such products might be wood from clearcut forest areas, or beef from ranches (chiefly in Central and South America) which have been established by cutting down rainforests.

b. Certification of forest products: This is related to the above measure. One plan which is being used to some extent is to “certify” wood which comes from forests which are logged sustainably (but see problems with sustainable forestry, above). Another is to label coffee or cocoa which comes from “shade” plantations, which preserve many forest trees and retain some features of the forest, rather than from a more recent type of plantation, from which all natural tree cover is removed and sun-tolerant coffee trees planted (see above). Customers have the choice of purchasing the certified product or not. This can have some benefit if consumers are willing to pay somewhat more for certified products, and if it is certain that environmental damage in these forests is restricted (not just protection from logging, but also from hunting by loggers, for example). Since these products reach only a limited number of consumers – only 1% of coffee sold in the United States is certified (Hardner and Rice, 2002) – this is a minor mechanism for forest protection as yet. Relatively few consumers even in the developed countries, and almost none in developing regions, where most tropical timber is being sold, know or care about certification.

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