Posts Tagged ‘timber’

China Stakes Its Claim on West Africa — “It’s an El Dorado for Cameroon.”

August 30, 2018

A controversial $1.3 billion port in Cameroon will open the region’s lumber, iron ore, cotton and other commodities to world markets.

Environmentalists fear deforestation

Gantry cranes sit on the dockside at the container terminal at the Port of Kribi, Cameroon. Photographer: Adrienne Surprenant/Bloomberg

Every day at sunrise, Alain Eko walks half an hour on a footpath cutting through a coastal forest to the edge of what’s to become the biggest deep-water port in central Africa.

Eko, 34, is among hundreds of migrant workers who have pinned their hopes on Cameroon’s most ambitious project since independence in 1960 that’s meant to transform the sleepy fishing town of Kribi into an industrial hub. Built and funded by China, the project is helping Chinese companies gain a foothold in Cameroon, whose oil-dependent economy used to be dominated by French firms, and eased access to neighboring Chad and Central African Republic.

Alain Eko, centre, walks along the beach as Kribi Port stands in the distance. Photographer: Adrienne Surprenant/Bloomberg

A university graduate, Eko has offloaded trucks, wedged bricks into hill slopes and shoveled dirt since he moved to southwestern Cameroon to work as a day laborer with contractors for the company building the port, China Harbour Engineering Co., locally known as CHEC. He hopes that one day he’ll earn enough to bring his wife and child from the interior.

“It’s an El Dorado for Cameroon,” Eko said as he stood on a beach and pointed at cranes towering on the horizon. “This is the future.”

It’s a rare bit of good news for Cameroon’s government, which is facing insurgencies, widespread discontent with President Paul Biya’s 35-year grip on power and a steep drop in oil income. Amid uncertainty over 85-year-old Biya’s health and a rebellion in the two Anglophone regions of the mainly French-speaking nation, the official opening of the port’s first container and multi-purpose terminals in March was a bright spot.

Workers load timber logs onto the bulk carrier vessel Faneromeni at the Kribi Polyvalent Multiple Operators (KPMO) operated multipurpose terminal.
Photographer: Adrienne Surprenant/Bloomberg

The project has sparked controversy. Environmentalists raised concerns about its impact on the Congo Basin, the world’s second-largest tropical rainforest, well before bulldozers began clearing trees by the end of 2010. By the time the project is due to be completed in 2035, tens of thousands hectares of jungle will have been cleared for an entirely new city.

“Cameroon has been trying to identify an area to build a deep-sea port for decades,” said commercial director Modeste Jocelin Ako’o. “The port of Douala, where most of our industry is located, is completely saturated. We need a port that’s in line with international standards to boost our economy.”

Fishermen in nearby Lolabe village, where Eko lives, so far have refused to move to a specially built town where bulbous street lamps stick out like strange insects in a dark green forest.

Fishing nets hang from a tree in the village of Lolabe.
Photographer: Adrienne Surprenant/Bloomberg

Delays have also plagued the project. Last year’s bankruptcy of the French logistics company NCT Necotrans meant the government had to postpone the opening of the container terminal it was supposed to operate. It’s now run by a consortium of Bollore SA and shipping-services firm CMA CGM SA of France, and CHEC.

Since the initial agreement to build the port at Kribi was signed in 2009, 10 Chinese firms, including CHEC and its holding company, China Communications Construction Co., have obtained concessions to mine bauxite, iron ore and other minerals. Other Chinese companies are constructing office towers in the capital, Yaounde, and stadiums for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations soccer tournament.

The Kribi project also highlights CHEC’s rapid expansion on the continent, where it’s won dozens of contracts and is expanding ports from Guinea in West Africa to Tanzania in the east.

A China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) employee sits on a motorcycle as he speaks with workers digging near the Port of Kribi.
Photographer: Adrienne Surprenant/Bloomberg

In Cameroon, CHEC has the country’s largest projects: the first and second stages of the Kribi complex will cost $1.3 billion, while it’s also building a $453 million highway linked to the port, holds a contract to dredge the port of Douala and has signed an accord for a railway to the Mbalam iron-ore deposit.

After a slow start, the port shipped almost 3,000 logs of timber from the Central African Republic by June and handled about 80 vessels by mid-July.

A mandarin language CHEC billboard advertising the Port of Kribi.
Photographer: Adrienne Surprenant/Bloomberg

Once complete, the area should comprise 20 berths, an oil and gas terminal, a 260 square-kilometer (100 square-mile) industrial zone to process timber, cotton and cocoa, and roads and railways connecting the port to Cameroon’s main cities and mines in the interior.

Despite stiff French competition, CHEC managed to persuade Cameroon that it was able to “realize its dream” by carrying out surveys for the Kribi project for free and negotiating funding from the Export-Import Bank of China, Xu Huajing, managing director of CHEC’s central Africa division, said in an interview last year with the Chinese magazine Economic Observer.

“The Europeans had been trying to push this project for 20 years, wrote two or three versions of a master plan and conducted eight technical studies,” said Xu, who worked in neighboring Nigeria before Cameroon. “Then, we offered a master plan for free, which left the government speechless.”

Image result for deforestation

Deforestation

Despite the sacrifices that local people are having to make, Cameroon needs this kind of development, said Blaise Ivouva, a Lolabe village chief who works for CHEC and helped negotiate compensation for those who are being forced to leave their homes.

“Even if our generation won’t see the benefits of this project,” he said, “at least our children will.”

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2018-08-29/china-stakes-its-claim-on-west-africa

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China’s Pacific Islands Push Has the U.S. Worried

June 18, 2018

In the gritty, steamy streets of Papua New Guinea’s capital Port Moresby, signs of China’s push into the Pacific island nation are inescapable.

A Chinese worker stencils a logo for China Railway Group outside the new national courthouse it’s building; China Harbor Engineering Group laborers tar roads under the searing midday sun.

“Little by little they are taking slices of our businesses,” said Martyn Namorong, who campaigns to protect local jobs and communities as China ramps up infrastructure spending in the resource-rich nation, often bringing its own workforce. “My people feel we can’t compete.”

The nation of 8 million people is the latest frontier in Beijing’s bid for global influence that’s included building artificial reefs in the South China Sea, a military base in Africa and an ambitious trade-and-infrastructure plan spanning three continents.

Advertisement for China Construction Bank outside the airport in Port Moresby.
Photographer: Jason Scott/Bloomberg

China’s thrust into the Pacific islands region, a collection of more than a dozen tiny nations including Fiji, Niue and Timor Leste scattered across thousands of miles of ocean, has the U.S. and its close ally Australia worried. The region played a key role in World War II and remains strategically important as Western powers seek to maintain open sea lines and stability. For Beijing, it offers raw materials, from gas to timber, and a clutch of countries who could voice support for its territorial claims.

“We’ve seen a huge surge in China’s state-directed economic investment and mobilization of an enormous amount of capital in the Pacific which clearly has a strategic intent,” said Eric B. Brown, a senior fellow in Asian affairs at Washington-based think tank the Hudson Institute. “The sovereignty of these nations could be compromised by these predatory economic methods. And that could create a military threat to countries such as Australia and effect the ability of the U.S. Navy and its allies to maintain freedom and order in the Pacific.”

Debt Trap

China’s lending practices related to the Belt and Road Initiative have raised concerns among the International Monetary Fund and the Trump administration that poorer countries wouldn’t be able to repay heavy debts. Sri Lanka is considered an example of what could go wrong for developing nations: China received a 99-year lease for a strategic port after the government in Colombo couldn’t repay loans.

Read more: Costly Lessons for Leaders Eyeing China’s Belt-and-Road Billions

Indeed China has overtaken Japan as Papua New Guinea’s largest bilateral creditor and by the end of the year PNG will owe it about $1.9 billion in concessional loans — almost a quarter of its total debt burden. Standard & Poor’s in April lowered the nation’s sovereign credit rating to B from B+, citing rising costs of servicing debt that’s climbed above 30 percent of gross domestic product and is expected to reach about 40 percent by 2021.

The IMF warns that other recipients of Chinese money in the region — tiny nations such as Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu — have moderate to high risks of debt distress.

While the largess flowing into the Pacific from Beijing is a fraction of the $350 billion of Chinese aid distributed globally since 2000, it’s still big money for the nations, most with populations under 1 million. In April, the French Polynesian government approved construction of a $320 million Chinese fish farm.

Military Presence

Hugh White, a professor of strategic studies at the Australian National University in Canberra, says “there’s no doubt” China could seek to establish a military presence in the Pacific in the future, cashing in its influence with “one of these small, vulnerable states.”

“It intends to become the primary power in east Asia and the western Pacific,” White said.

Governments in the region have sought to strike a balance between accepting China’s cash and resisting moves that would raise concern among Western military powers. Vanuatu in April denied media reports that China had approached it to build a permanent military base in one of its harbors.

Peter O’Neill and Xi Jinping in July 2016.
Photographer: Mark Schiefelbein/Pool via Getty Images

The office of PNG’s Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, who’s due to meet President Xi Jinping in China later this week, didn’t reply to repeated requests for comment. When O’Neill visited Beijing in 2016, he pledged support for China’s military build up in the South China Sea. In December, a month after China promised to construct $3.5 billion of roads, O’Neill said PNG will continue to be a “staunch partner.”

Beijing’s push into the Pacific islands risks further straining ties with key trading partner Australia — which views the region as its own diplomatic backyard and has been increasingly critical of China’s economic and military muscle-flexing.

During a visit to the region this month, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said “we want to continue to be the partner of choice for nations in the Pacific.” Her government on June 13 signed an agreement to build a new undersea telecommunications cable to the Solomon Islands, squeezing out a bid by China’s Huawei Technologies Ltd.

Papua New Guinea has traditionally looked to Australia — from which it won independence in 1975 — for a helping hand. Outside of the capital, the nation’s woeful roads network has helped push prices of food staples beyond what many can afford. It’s also struggling with an illiteracy rate of 35 percent, poor tax collection and endemic corruption.

Australia is still its largest donor, contributing more than three-quarters of total aid and loans compared to China’s 14 percent. Yet the majority is directed to improving corporate governance, while Beijing has focused on infrastructure and major works.

‘Red Carpet’

Nursing a cool drink at a sports club in Port Moresby, British-born business adviser Paul Barker said China was stepping into a vacuum left by the west.

“The government in Beijing has rolled out the red carpet and our leaders seem to be a bit intoxicated by the experience,” said Barker, who’s lived in his adopted nation for more than four decades.

Australia’s assistant trade minister Mark Coulton acknowledged the merits of China’s investment as he sat in one of Port Moresby’s few five-star hotels near the Beijing-gifted convention center where APEC leaders will meet in November.

“You can’t deny your neighbor if someone is looking to build something they really need,” he said. “Our role is to give the PNG government and people the ability” to “handle influxes of foreign aid like those that are now occurring.”

China’s foreign ministry, which didn’t respond to a request for comment, in April said Pacific island nations weren’t in the “sphere of influence of any country” and called on Australia not to interfere.

China Railway Group signage at the construction site of the new national courthouse.
Photographer: Jason Scott/Bloomberg

Wang Dong, an international relations professor at Peking University, dismissed concerns that large concessional loans leave nations vulnerable to “debt-trap diplomacy” and said China’s expanded role in the Pacific is a natural consequence of its growing economic clout.

“It’s scaremongering to think this will lead to any military design or ambition in the Pacific,” Wang said in a phone interview from Beijing. “We will see China increase its presence there and it will keep helping these countries build their infrastructure.”

China is in the region to stay, said Jonathan Pryke of the Lowy Institute, a Sydney-based think tank.

“China has entered the Pacific in a significant way,” said Pryke. “It’s upended the status quo and caused anxiety, because no-one knows what its end-game is.”

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2018-06-17/china-s-pacific-islands-push-has-the-u-s-worried

US firms buying timber from illegal PNG logging: NGO — Flooring manufactured in China and Home Depot named

August 1, 2017

AFP

© Global Witness/AFP | This undated handout photo released on August 1, 2017 by the environmental watchdog Global Witness shows trees illegally logged in the back of a truck on New Hanover Island, part of the Bismarck Archipelago of Papua New Guinea

PORT MORESBY (AFP) – American consumers may be fuelling logging linked to illegal land grabs in Papua New Guinea which have devastated local communities and the world’s third largest tropical rain forest, Global Witness said Tuesday.Timber logged in the impoverished Pacific nation is exported to manufacturing hubs, mostly in China, before being sent to other countries such as the United States as wooden flooring and other commercial products in a multi-billion dollar trade.

But Global Witness claimed about one-third of PNG timber in recent years came from land stolen from locals by the government and given to loggers. It said US firms could be violating American law if they fail to check the wood’s legality.

“US consumers may be unwittingly fuelling what is one of the biggest land grabs in modern history,” the NGO said in a statement after releasing its “Stained Trade” report based on a three-year investigation.

The activist group estimated that Chinese sales of wood products to the US were worth some $15 billion annually.

“The US Lacey Act bans the import of illegal wood. However, Global Witness found wood from PNG readily available on US markets in the form of flooring manufactured in China,” it said.

Global Witness said US retail giant Home Depot’s supplier Home Legend stopped selling hardwood flooring that contained PNG timber after they were informed of the findings.

It added that major Chinese flooring seller Nature Home was placing a “pause on new procurement” for the US market as it reviewed sourcing procedures.

But some of the other US companies which were contacted about the investigation did not respond, Global Witness said.

As part of its 2014-16 probe, the organisation interviewed dozens of people from local communities — who rely on the forests as sources of food, water and medicine — and who said they had lost their land to loggers.

“Tens of thousands of people have been affected,” said campaign leader Rick Jacobsen, who claimed many who tried to speak out had been threatened, arrested or beaten.

Landowner-turned-activist Paul Pavol said such land was his community’s “food and water, protein, building materials, medicines, beauty, warmth, and everything else”, but that changed when logging machines were brought there in 2010.

“There were policemen on the barge… We were the first people to go up there and tell them, ‘No, stop this!’ When I see ships taking my logs away, I honestly cry.

“That’s the reason we raise our voices. Something’s got to be done to save our forest.”

The PNG government has rejected previous allegations that logging was taking place on illegally obtained land.

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species Meets In South Africa

September 24, 2016
A man drives a pick-up truck carrying a mock rhino during a demonstration marking the opening of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild, Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Johannesburg on September 24, 2016

A man drives a pick-up truck carrying a mock rhino during a demonstration marking the opening of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild, Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Johannesburg on September 24, 2016 (AFP Photo/Marco Longari)
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Johannesburg (AFP) – South African President Jacob Zuma opened the world’s biggest conference on the international wildlife trade in Johannesburg Saturday with a warning of the dire consequences of failing to tackle the demand for elephant ivory, rhino horn and hundreds of other endangered wild animals and plants.

Over the next 12 days thousands of conservationists and top government officials are due to thrash out international trade regulations aimed at protecting different species.

The plight of Africa’s rhino and elephants, targeted for their horns and tusks, in particular, is expected to dominate much of the gathering.

The booming illegal wildlife trade has put huge pressure on an existing treaty signed by more than 180 countries — the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

Opening the conference, Zuma said it was vital that nations worked together to pull species back from the brink.

“Levels of exploitation of some animal and plant species are high and the trade is capable of heavily depleting their populations and even bringing some species close to extinction,” Zuma said.

CITES’ secretary general John Scanlon said the meeting would “review trade controls of close to 500 species of wild animals and plants”.

“High on the agenda we have the African elephants, the rhino, the pangolin… the silky shark,” he said.

And while Scanlon hailed the deep commitment of all those taking part, he warned that “they sometimes have differing views on the best way to achieve this”.

A coalition of 29 African countries is pressing for a total halt to the ivory trade to curb poaching of elephants, but other delegates believe it would only fuel illegal trading.

A recent census revealed that the savannah elephant population has declined by 30 percent over seven years.

Britain’s Prince William said in a pre-CITES speech this week that the census confirmed that “one of our planet’s most treasured species is on course for extinction at the hands of poachers and traffickers”.

He added that when he was born there were one million elephants roaming Africa, but they could be extinct in the wild by the time his one-year-old daughter Charlotte turned 25.

Illegal trade in wildlife is valued at around $20 billion (18 billion euros) a year, according to CITES.

It is ranked among the world’s largest illegal businesses alongside arms, counterfeit goods, drugs and human trafficking.

Several hundred activists meanwhile marched near the conference venue to push for the “strictest possible protection” for the most vulnerable species.

– Insatiable demand –

CITES forbids trade in elephant ivory, but Namibia and Zimbabwe have made a proposal asking for permission to sell off stockpiles to raise funds for local communities that co-exist with the animals.

On rhino horn trafficking, CITES banned that trade 40 years ago, but prohibition has not reduced illicit hunting, which has recently boomed in South Africa.

Around 5,000 white rhino — a quarter of the population — have been slaughtered over the past eight years, with the majority killed in South Africa, home to 80 percent of the world’s rhino.

Rhino poaching is driven by insatiable demand in Vietnam and China for the horn, which is mistakenly believed to have medicinal powers curing everything from hangovers to cancer.

But China is now taking steps to clampdown on the domestic demand for ivory.

“China has made significant moves to combat illegal trade in wildlife,” Scanlon told reporters, adding it had started prosecuting people involved in illegal trade and reducing demand by closing down local retail markets.

Other species high on the CITES radar are devils ray, rock geckos, tomato frogs and the African grey parrot.

Scanlon warned that illegal wildlife trafficking was “occurring on an industrial scale, driven by transnational organised criminal groups”.

Besides animals, timber will be a focus.

When it first came into force in 1975, CITES only regulated a handful of timber species, but three years ago there were 600 types of timber listed under its appendices.

This year there are 250 species proposed for listing, especially of sought-after rosewood.

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Myanmar announces amnesty for thousands of prisoners — Includes Chinese loggers

July 30, 2015

Reuters

YANGON — Myanmar freed 155 Chinese jailed for illegal logging in an amnesty for thousands of prisoners on Thursday, a move that could ease diplomatic tensions with influential giant neighbor China.

Some 6,966 prisoners were pardoned including the Chinese citizens held in Kachin state, of which 153 were given life sentences last week that prompted a diplomatic protest by an “extremely concerned” China .

Despite Myanmar’s flurry of engagement with the West since a quasi-civilian government replaced a junta in 2011, its ties with China – its economic lifeline during two decades of sanctions – remain crucial to trade, security and energy.

Relations have soured this year over fighting between Myanmar’s army and a rebel militia that has seen Chinese citizens killed by stray shells in border areas.

The loggers were among 210 foreigners included in Thursday’s amnesty, according to prison and Home Ministry officials.

Myanmar has sentenced an unspecified number of Chinese nationals to more than a decade in jail for illegal logging, China’s state media previously reported.  © AFP/File / by Kelly Macnamara

Myint Wai, director of the immigration in Myitkyina, where the loggers were held, said buses were waiting to take them to the border. China’s embassy in Myanmar was not immediately available for comment.

The loggers were arrested in January in a crackdown on Myanmar’s lucrative illegal logging and timber trade. More than 400 vehicles and 1,600 logs were seized during the raid, state media said at the time.

Myanmar’s porous border with China has long been a hotbed for illegal trade in timber and jade to feed Chinese demand.

That has fueled resentment in Myanmar, which the Global Times tabloid, published by the Chinese ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, in an editorial last week said could have been the reason for the harsh sentences.

It was unclear if political prisoners were among those freed, said Bo Kyi, of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), which monitors prisoners of conscience, of which more than 2,000 were held in Myanmar’s jails and labor camps under military rule.

“Many prisoners will be released, but I’m not sure what kind of prisoners,” he said.

Myanmar’s incarceration of journalists, activists, politicians and even comedians was a key factor behind the West’s imposition of sanctions, many of which were eased when reformist President Thein Sein started releasing hundreds of political prisoners.

He had said there would be no more prisoners of conscience by the end of 2013, a promise human rights groups say he has broken.

According to the AAPP, Myanmar, as of last week, had 136 political prisoners and another 448 facing trial.

(Writing by Timothy McLaughlin; Editing by Martin Petty)

Heavy weapons fire breaks out in Central African Republic’s capital

December 30, 2013

By Paul-Marin Ngoupana

BANGUI          Mon Dec 30, 2013 9:31am EST

Deadly clashes in bangui central african republic un authorizes troops hollande

People stand near bodies found lying in a mosque and in its surrounding streets in the Central African capital Bangui on December 5, 2013, after overnight violence.

BANGUI (Reuters) – Heavy weapons fire rang out in the north of Central African Republic’s capital Bangui early on Monday in what the government said were clashes with Christian militias.

French and African troops have struggled to contain violence between Muslim Seleka rebels and Christian militias that has already killed 1,000 people this month and displaced hundreds of thousands.

“There was heavy weapons fire north of Bangui for a few hours and several neighborhoods were affected,” Amy Martin, head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Bangui told Reuters.

A Reuters witness in the capital reported shell explosions and mortar fire, adding that it had stopped by late morning.

Heavy arms fire was reported in Bangui during a two-day spike in violence which began on December 5 but reports of shooting in recent days has been limited to sporadic small arms fire.

Guy-Simplice Kodegue, spokesman for interim President Michel Djotodia said the fresh fighting was between government forces and members of the Christian militia, known as anti-balaka after the local Sango language word for machete.

He did not say whether there had been any casualties.

A local resident who didn’t wish to be named said a group of around 40 men armed with Kalashnikovs assault rifles marched through northern Bangui on Monday, despite French-led efforts to disarm the population.

The country’s Christian majority has complained of waves of looting and killing by Djotodia’s loose band of militias who seized power in March with the aid of fighters from Chad and Sudan.

Violence intensified in early December after Christian militia launched reprisal attacks on Seleka forces, raising fears of generalized conflict in the country.

The number of internally displaced has swollen with the mounting violence and over 100,000 are sheltering in a makeshift camp at Bangui airport, a medical charity said.

CHILD BEHEADINGS

Kristalina Georgieva, EU aid chief, said that concerted international action was needed to prevent “an appalling tragedy from spiraling further out of control”.

More than 800,000 people are now internally displaced within the country and a meeting with U.N.’s humanitarian chief Valerie Amos is planned for January 20 to coordinate humanitarian policy, Georgieva added.

UNICEF, the United Nations’ children’s agency, said on Monday that at least two children had been beheaded in this month’s violence.

“More and more children are being recruited into armed groups, and they are also being directly targeted in atrocious revenge attacks,” said Souleymane Diabate, UNICEF Representative in the country.

Martin Ziguele, a former prime minister and leading opposition figure, called for the formation of a national commission to bring accountability for crimes.

“There can be no true reconciliation without justice and forgiveness,” he said in a statement.

Many say the bloodshed has little to do with religion in a nation where Muslims and Christians have long lived in peace, and have instead blamed a political battle for control of resources in one of Africa’s most weakly governed states.

Central African Republic, racked by five coups and numerous rebellions since independence from France in 1960, is rich in diamonds, timber gold and oil.

(Reporting by Paul-Marin Ngoupana; Additional reporting by Ange Aboa; Writing by Emma Farge; Editing by Jon Boyle)