Special Agricultural Business Lease Distortions Impacting APEC’s Shared Future

We the undersigned would like to commend The Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea and themNational Executive Council (NEC) for the initiation of a Commission of Inquiry into Special Agricultural Business Leases (SABLs) in 2011 and declaration of a moratorium. We appreciate NEC’s subsequent reaffirmation of the moratorium in 2014 and the direction it gave to the PNG Forest Authority ‘to continue the NEC decision and not issue any more Forest Clearance Authorities to SABLs’. Furthermore, we support the NEC in its agreement to follow the inquiry’s recommendations, review the SABLs for which the Commission of Inquiry failed to provide recommendations, as well its commitment to repeal the SABL provisions in the Land Act.

SABLs have distorted the structure of timber products from Papua New Guinea, destroyed complex forest ecology's, left customary land ownership systems in disarray, impoverished forest dependent communities, defined the cutting edge in legal and legislative manipulation by log exporters, and exposed the weakness of customs and enforcement agency cooperation in APEC. Global Witness in their report ‘Stained Trade’ assert that ‘Exotic wood products sold in American stores may be driving the theft of indigenous people’s land and deforestation in Papua New Guinea where communities are seeing their livelihoods and environment destroyed.’ At a grassroots level, there is a sense of physical and emotional fatigue amongst customary landowners that trade routes to the APEC community are still open to exported logs from SABLs. ‘When all our forests are divested, when all our reefs are gone, this is poverty.’ declares John Aini from Ailan Awareness. Monica Edy, from the Papua New Guinean island of New Hanover, remarks on how the local markets have been impacted by the SABLs, ‘Before, a basket of garden food was 2 kina or 1 kina only. Now we must buy it for 20 kina. The food is scarce, so the price has gone higher.’

As citizens and organisations based in Papua New Guinea and the wider APEC region, we were impressed at the firm stance the Prime Minister and the National Executive Council were taking to prevent further SABL development especially given the well documented environmental and social damage occurring as a result of large-scale forest clearance practices. We are, however, very concerned given the lack of progress on implementing the Commission of Inquiry’s recommendations, and the lack of enforcement by the Government of PNG to uphold court rulings with regard to the cancellations of SABLs. We suggest that the export of round logs from SABLs should be a matter of national economic concern given the timber is being deliberately undervalued to avoid taxation. Ultimately, this will be undermining the Government of PNG’s tax revenue by millions of kina. Additionally, given that the Commission of Inquiry identified many SABLs as fraudulent and that much of the timber export is conducted by multinational companies, there is substantial evidence that ongoing transnational crime is involved. We are, however, heartened by the passing of key legislation which enabled the recent establishment of the PNG Financial Analysis and Supervision Unit which will be specifically targeting financial crimes associated with such forestry practices.

The Canopy Watch Network agrees with Jennifer Prescott, Assistant United States Trade Representative for Environment and Natural Resources when she states, ‘The importance of customs and enforcement agency cooperation in APEC to securing wood trade can’t be overstated. As illegal wood trade grows in sophistication, it is vital that we grow the sophistication of our tools to address it.’ We believe the upcoming APEC summit represents an excellent opportunity for the Government of PNG to update other countries of Asia Pacific region on the progress with the SABL issue, and we look forward to issues of transnational forestry crime being raised with the APEC Expert Group on Illegal Logging and Associated Trade (EGILAT).

Endorsed by;

Kesaia Marama Tabunakawai Pacific Representative
Ambroise Brenier, PNG Country Director
Wildlife Conservation Society
Paul Barker Director
Institue of National Affairs
Peter Bosip Executive Director
Centre for Environmental Law & Community Rights
Kenn Mondiai ExecutiveDirector
Partners With Melanesians
Dr. Robert Bino Natural Resource Management
Research and Conservation Foundation of PNG
John Aini President of Lovongai Local Level Government
Founder Ailan Awareness NGO
Colin Filer Associate Professor College of Asia & The Pacific
Australian National University
Thomas Diwai Vigus Forester Expert Witness
Environmental Damage to PNG forests
William Nicholls Project Director
Canopy Watch

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