Tropical countries have undergone a “boom and bust” development of their forests. At first, when they had plenty of forest filled with valuable, old-growth species of trees, they cut down timber for export or processed wood products. Then, when the accessible forest was depleted, they turned to second-growth forests, or forests more difficult of access (such as forests on steep slopes or at higher altitudes), but as these forests cannot sustain harvests as high as primary forests, inevitably there was a dwindling of profits. This has led to the ruthless exploitation of less valuable species, and the re-logging of previously-cut areas.

It has become clear that tropical countries are cutting down their forests but obtaining relatively little benefit from it. Rather than tropical timber being an extraordinarily valuable source of foreign exchange, in fact the prices of tropical woods are quite low, lower than for good temperate hardwoods. Only about one-third of the production of timber is exported to developed countries overall; the remainder is used internally or goes to other developing countries. In fact, much of the consumption of wood and wood products is occurring in developing countries, with their rapidly-increasing populations and lower tariffs (although tariffs have become lower in many developed countries because of GATT). Tropical woods are not used for high-end products, but for items which could be made with fast-growing plantation softwoods.