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LQA 7003

International Environmmental Law: Natural World Issues.


International Tropical Timber Agreement

International Tropical Timber Organisation





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1.0 Introduction

The tropical timbers industry is one of the highly important trade in the world’s economy.
The trading and development issues of tropical timbers are one of the industries, recognised under
the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Under the International
Tropical Timber Agreement (ITTA), tropical timbers are defined as “tropical wood for industrial
uses, which grows or is produced in the countries situated between the Tropic of Cancer and the
Tropic of Capricorn. The term covers logs, sawn wood, veneer sheets and plywood” 1 . The
exploitation of tropical forests has many adverse impacts on the nature’s biodiversity and
ecosystem, just to name a few. However, it is definitely impossible to stop deforestation ultimately
for preservation efforts of the forests as the trade on tropical timbers are very much needed in order
to cater for the growing and developing populations of the world. Therefore, there must be a
balance between deforestation of tropical timbers and the conservation of tropical forests.

In 1964, the United Nations in the United Nations General Assembly established a
permanent intergovernmental body called UNCTAD with goals to achieve prosperity for all by
requiring developed countries such as provisions of analysis, consensus building and technical
assistance in globalized economy. The realisation of the need to have an environmental treaty and
body in order to protect tropical forests from further abuses was first initiated by the workings of
the UNCTAD. It is worthy to note that this realisation and focus to protect the tropical forests came
from an outside agency “rather than the affected States coming together to combat deforestation”2.
An agreement named as International Tropical Timber Agreement (ITTA) is a document created “to
promote the expansion and diversification of international trade in tropical timber from sustainably
managed and legally harvested forests and to promote the sustainable management of tropical
timber producing forests”3.In order to achieve the objective as mentioned above, an International
Tropical Timber Organisation (ITTO) was established by the ITTA to administer its provisions and
supervise the operations of the ITTA.

Article 2(1) of ITTA 2006
Nagtzaam, ‘Into the Woods: Analysing Normative Evolution and the International Tropical Timber
Organisation’(2014) p. 5, Retrieved from
Article 1 of ITTA 2006

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2.0 Background

The process of creating this Agreement started in 1976 with a series of preparatory meetings
that had continued for six years4. The ITTA was signed in 1983 and was scheduled to enter into
force in 1985. “However, because of a dispute over the location of the Secretariat, which was
finally given to Yokohama, Japan, the treaty did not begin operations until 1987”5 (which cited
Weiss [1998], p.117). The true drivers in the treaty-making process were the international
organisations and the environmental non-government organisations (NGO)6. These organisations
were the truest conservationist which had the ultimate goal of preserving the tropical forests from
rapid and abusive deforestation. It was the combined efforts of the environmental NGOs and
consumer States that had driven to an agreed text7. To date, UNCTAD has established three ITTAs:
(i) International Tropical Timber Agreement 1983 (ITTA 1983)
(ii) International Tropical Timber Agreement 1994 (ITTA 1994)
(iii) International Tropical Timber Agreement 2006 (ITTA 2006)

3.0 International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO)

The ITTO is an organisational body established by ITTA8 in charge of implementing the

Agreement through its International Tropical Timber Council (ITTC). ITTO’s headquarters is
located in Yokohama, Japan9. “The organisation has provided a forum for debates between various
norm entrepreneurs as to which environmental norm should underpin the organization, and by
extension the tropical timber regime”10. Pursuant to Article 26(1) of ITTA 2006, four committees
of ITTO are established to execute the objectives provided under Article 1. The four committees
(i) Committee on Forest Industry;
(ii) Committee on Economics, Statistics and Markets;
(iii) Committee on Reforestration and Forest Management; and
(iv) Committee on Finance and Administration

Nagtzaam, above n 2
Chirchi, ‘The Combined Success of the International Tropical Timber Agreements’(2004) p.2, Retrieved from
Poore, Changing Landscapes: The Development of the International Tropical Timber Organization and Its Influence
on Tropical Forest Management, (2003)p.14.
Gale, ‘The Tropical Timber Trade Regime’(1998) International Political Economy Series, p.87
Article 3(1) of ITTA 1983.
Note: the role of ITTO remains in the subsequent ITTA 1994 and ITTA 2006.
Article 3(4) of ITTA 2006;
Nagtzaam, above n 2

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ITTO official mission statement state, “The ITTO facilitate discussion, consultation and
international cooperation on issues relating to the international trade and utilization of tropical
timber and the sustainable management of its resourse base” 11 . ITTO is an action-oriented
organisation which has the function of formulating policies relevant to its objectives and assists
members to implement those policies12.

Firstly, the major areas of work conducted by ITTO are as follows:-

(i) ITTO Objective 2000 (a commitment to achieving exports of tropical timber from sustainably
managed forest resources);
(ii) sustainable forest management (SFM);
(iii) economic information and market intelligence;
(iv) industry development; and
(v) capacity building13.

Second, it can be noted here that sustainable forest management is the main goal of ITTO. The
organisation defines sustainable forest management as “the process of managing forest to achieve
one or more clearly specified objectives of management with regard to the production of a
continuous flow of desired forest products and services without undue reduction of its inherent
values and future productivity and without undue undesirable effects on the physical and social
environment”14. From this definition, it is clear that the purpose of ITTA and its Organisation is to
ensure that the natural resources (timbers) of the forests are being used without damaging the
forests and its biodiversity. Therefore, ITTO distributes votes evenly to both its producing members
of 1,000 votes each15 in decision making process. Equal distribution of votes symbolizes democracy
by putting both producing members and consuming members on equal footing. Hence, it is the
duty of ITTO to ensure that the management of the forests is sustainable and effective which
includes actions of “planning, reduced impact logging, community forestry, fire management and
biodiversity and transboundary conservation” 16 . “Since its inception the body has become the
premiere body governing the tropical timber trade and implementing SFM”17.

Article 10 of ITTA
Nagtzaam, above n 2

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4.0 The ITTA 1983 and its 1994 and 2006 Successor Agreements

As of this date, the ITTA has been re-negotiated twice; once in the year of 1994 and another
in 2006. Comparing the 1983 Agreement and its successor 1994 Agreement, it would be safe to say
that most texts of the 1994 Agreement remains unchanged and very much identical to the 1983
Agreement. The key changes made in the 1994 Agreement after its renegotiations were “the
creation of the Bali Partnership fund to assist producing countries in managing their tropical timber
resources and the explicit goal for sustainable forest practices to be met by the year 2000”18. The
Bali Partnership Fund is a special fund instituted by consumer countries as a "mechanism for the
provision of new and additional financial resources and expertise needed to enhance the capacity of
producing members to attain the objectives”19. As for the ITTA 2006, the notable key changes
made from the 1994 Agreement are the insertion or addition of the ITTA objectives under its
Article 1. The newly added objectives are as follows:-
(i) poverty alleviation;
(ii) competitiveness of wood products relative to other materials;
(iii) adequacy and predictability of funding;
(iv) consumer awareness
(v) statistics on trade in timber and information on the sustainable management of tropical forests;
(vi) information sharing on voluntary mechanisms;
improvement of forest law enforcement and governance and addressing illegal logging and
(vii) contribution of non-timber forest products and environmental services to the sustainable
management of tropical forests;
(viii) recognition of the role of forest-dependent indigenous and local communities in achieving
sustainable forest management; and
(ix) identification of relevant new and emerging issues.

The Preamble to the ITTA 2006 has its newly added item as well. Its section (d) reads that
States have “the sovereign right to exploit their own resources pursuant to their own environmental
policies and have the responsibility to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction and control do
not cause damage to the environment of other States or of areas beyond the limits of national
jurisdiction”. This newly included section reflects the principle of customary international law on
Chirchi, above n 5
Article 1 (g) of ITTA 1994

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the sovereign right of States to exploit resources within their own national boundaries as embedded
in Principle 21 of the Stockholm Declaration and the Rio Declaration on Forests 20. One of the
objectives added in the ITTA 2006 is on the issue of illegal logging and trade that had rapidly
emerged after the establishment of increased regulation in the 1983 and 1994 ITTAs. “To counter
this growing problem, authors of the new agreement have created a voluntary system of
certification. "Certification" refers to the labeling of tropical timber products with tags that indicate
to consumers that the wood came from sustainably managed sources”21(which cited Agence France,
2006). The ITTA 2006that superseded the ITTA 1994was adopted and entered into force in 2011
and is currently the operative agreement governing the tropical timber trade and its tropical

5.0 Key Contents of the 2006 ITTA

The main objective of ITTA is “to promote the expansion and diversification of
international trade in tropical timber from sustainably managed and legally harvested forests and to
promote the sustainable management of tropical timber producing forests” as mentioned in its
Article 1. There are 19 paragraphs under the Article 1 on the ITTA objectives. Its objectives are
clearly spelt out in the Agreement as an indication of clear and specific guideline to the actors of the
Agreement to play their respective roles with the aim of achieving those objectives. The actors of
the ITTA are its members which comprise of a Government, the European Community or any
intergovernmental organisation23. However, it would be safe to say that the main players of this
Agreement would be its members from the producer States and the consumer States24. Annex A and
B provided at the end of the Agreement listed out the producer member States and consumer
member States respectively. It is worthy to note that Malaysia is one of the listed producer of
tropical timber given the fact that Malaysian forests encompass between 59% to 70% of Malaysia's
total land area, of which 11.6% is pristine25.

Similarly, the compositions of its members under the ITTO are established under Article 4
and 5. Article 6 sets out on the International Tropical Timber Council (ITTC) which has the

Nagtzaam, above n 2.
Stevenson, ‘The International Tropical Timber Agreements of 1983 &1994 : An Assessment of Treaty
Effectiveness’(2006), p. 18, Retrieved from
Nagtzaam, above n 2
Article 2(3) of ITTA 2006
Article 2(4) and (5) of ITTA 2006

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function of adopting rules and regulations, taking decisions and keeping records for the purpose of
implementing and enforcing the provisions of the Agreement 26 . Article 10 provides on the
distribution of votes where a thousand votes are allocated respectively for the producer and
consumer member States.

As mentioned earlier in the discussion, the Bali Partnership fund as established under the
ITTA 1994 and continued to be operative in the ITTA 2006, is found in the Article 21 with the
specified purpose to assist producer members to make the investments necessary to achieve the
objective of Article 1 (d) of this Agreement. The duties of ITTC are laid out under Article 27,
Article 28 and Article 31. Article 27 is laid out in accordance with Article 1 paragraph (l) on
collection, processing and dissemination of statistics on the trade in timber and information on
sustainable management of tropical forests. In Article 28, the ITTC has the duty to publish an
annual report on its activities and such other information as it considers appropriate. The Council
shall biennially review and assess: the international timber situation and other factors, issues and
developments considered relevant to achieving the objectives of this Agreement27. The ITTC has
the duty to decide on any complaints and disputes brought before the Council in which its
consensus decisions are final and binding28 . The obligations of its members as spelt out in the
Article 29 are to promote to the attainment of its objectives (Article 1) and to carry out any
decisions made by the ITTC. Here, it can be said that the objectives of ITTA are of highly
importance in ensuring the effectiveness of the working and operation of this Agreement.

6.0 Criticisms on ITTA

The operations of this Agreement have received tremendous critics especially on its
effectiveness in safeguarding the forests from further environmental abuses and degradation. Great
criticisms mostly came from the theoretical perspective which laid its justifications based on the
workings of the provisions in the Agreement. Another approach adopted in assessing the
effectiveness of this environmental treaty is from the perspective of environmental politics in which
statistical data and its analysis were used as an instrument to measure the success of ITTA in
achieving its objectives. For the purpose of this paper, the focus will be on the flaws of the

Article 7 of ITTA 2006
Article 28(2) of ITTA 2006
Article 31 of ITTA 2006

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workings of ITTA from a theoretical perspective and also, on the success of ITTA being an
effective treaty from a practical perspective.

6.1 Flaws of ITTA

In discussing the flaws of ITTA, the main work that will be referred to is an article by Gerry
Nagtzaam, “Into the Woods: Analyzing Normative Evolution and the International Tropical Timber
Organisation”(2014). In his findings, he viewed that the ITTA and its organisation, ITTO “have in
many ways perversely exacerbated forest degradation rather than balance the competing economic
and environmental issues as was promised”29. This author made his views based on points raised by
Fred Gale in his work, “The Tropical Timber Trade Regime”(1998) which asserted that “the ITTA
was meant to be a conventional commodities agreement and was designed to stabilize the market
price of tropical timber”. Then, the author also cited another view that supported Gale which agreed
that the ITTA is a commodities agreement and further blamed “its inherent flaws on the attempted
melding of conservation with trade promotion.”30(which cited Ans Kolk, “Forests in International
Environmental Politics: International Organisations, NGOs and the Brazilian Amazon”[1996]).

As mentioned earlier, ITTA attempted to strike a balance between maintaining the trading of
tropical timbers and the conservation of its forests. According to Nagtzaam, the ITTA has failed in
its attempt to ensure a stable market by allowing producer States to choose when to harvest the
tropical trees and preventing the needs to cut down trees due to market pressures. However, this has
resulted in the emergence of “monopolistic cartel which likely led to incentives to exploit rather
than conserve tropical timber” 31 . In response to the renegotiations that have resulted to the
enforcement of the successor Agreement 2006, a criticism is made on the point that the scope of the
Agreement is not sufficiently holistic considering the fact that its scope only covers for tropical
timbers rather than tropical forests. The author made his point by referring to section (e) of its
Preamble. He opined that it is a missed opportunity when the negotiators had considered to expand
the scope of ITTA to include all types of forests but that consideration did not materialise upon the
finality of the draft32.

Nagtzaam, above n 2
Nagtzaam, above n 2

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Flaws in the operations of the Agreement can also be spotted in its organisation, the ITTO
where the author commented that the structure of this organisation to be peculiar as it somehow
privileges environmental exploitation. He based his comment on the distribution of votes system
adopted by ITTO in which it “allows all states with tropical forests a say in proceedings and it
allows states with large forest regions and export industries such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Brazil,
a disproportionate say in the workings and direction of the ITTO. It also encourages ongoing,
greater despoliation of the forests because the greater the volume of tropical timber exported, the
more votes are assigned to a state thus rewarding exploitive behavior with greater sway in the
ITTO”33. Another criticism made by the author was on his dissatisfaction that the environmental
NGOs were not given a special place in the debate forums on ITTA as he viewed that failure to
allow them to “effectively contribute to the organisation has been to the ITTO’s detriment in
achieving its stated environmental goals” 34 . It “diminished the environmental NGOs ability to
present environmental arguments and estopped them from framing the debate in environmental
rather than purely economic terms”35.

6.2 Success of ITTA

A successful treaty is an effective treaty whereby its effectiveness is assessed through

comparison and analysis of different regimes. A study was made on the effectiveness of the
Agreement by evaluating the number of exports done over a time period by comparing with two
variables; the member States and non-member States. Declination of exports could mean a
reduction in deforestation and hence, it would imply that the objectives of the Agreement have been
successfully achieved. This approach was adopted as it views that “in a world with no international
authority to enforce compliance of international law, regime design is the only way to improve the
environment on a global level”36. The study compared the number of exports following the two
regimes that were enforced at that time; the ITTA 1983and the ITTA 1994. With that purpose of
study, the issue that was being centred is whether the main aim of ITTA to slow further
deforestation of tropical timber forests in producing member countries, was actually met by either
of the treaties, and if so, which was more effective and why37. The collected data in the study were
taken from the worldwide tropical timber data which was the result of the work by the ITTO and its

Nagtzaam, above n 2
Poore, above n 6
Chirchi, above n 5

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Council38. Besides that, different regime structures in both the Agreements were used as variables
as well.

The result of the paper found that there was declination of exports by member States which
showed that both Agreements had decreased deforestation in producing member States. The study
concluded by asserting that the ITTA 1983 was a success, that ITTA 1994 had followed suit and
“built upon its success and improved what had already been accomplished by the ITTA 1983 with
the creation of the Bali Partnership Fund and a goal for sustainable forest management practices”39.
The fund was not in existence in the ITTA 1983 but after it has been introduced in the successor
1994 Agreement, “the new fund gave producing countries more of an incentive to want to
participate and improve forest management, and re-invigorated their drive to conserve their tropical
timber resources” 40 . The author pointed that the 1983 Agreement was more trade and market
oriented but its 1994 successor was more environmentally-focused. The paper viewed that solely
environmentally focused treaties are not realistic as the world is driven by trade and markets. The
ITTA has its own uniqueness as this treaty attempts at “sustainable development in the tropical
timber market by encouraging market benefits, as well as environmental preservation”41. With that,
it concluded by saying that the ITTA was able to grasp the best of both worlds; the economic
aspects and the environmental aspects, in which its balance formed the main goal of the treaty. For
the purpose of this discussion, it is important to note that the study conducted on the effectiveness
of ITTA summarised that “from an environmental perspective, the ITTA’s were a success”42.

The current ITTO report shows that global tropical hardwood log imports dropped by 12%
in 2015, despite an increase in 2013 and 2014, according to preliminary results of ITTO’s biennial
review of the world timber situation.“Most of the decline is due to a significant drop in China’s
imports, where overstocking and slowing construction activity affected demand”43. The Biennial
Review and Assessment of the World Timber Situation provides data and analysis on the
production and trade of tropical forest products in ITTO member countries in accordance with
ITTA’s Article 28(2)(a).


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7.0 Malaysia : Among The Important Producer Country

Malaysia is one of the producer member country as listed in the ITTA’s Annex A with the
second largest vote amounting to the total number of 105 votes. Referring to the data made
available in the study conducted by Dunya Chirchi, “The Combined Success of the International
Tropical Timber Agreements”44, Malaysia is one of the world’s largest tropical wood exporters,
thus, Malaysia was the “pusher” during negotiations. Initially, the author inferred that Malaysia
would be among the actors of the Agreement that is less likely to comply. Contrastingly, Malaysia
was “the most compliant and progressive in taking steps to improve the environmental situation in
the country regarding tropical timber” 45 . This finding was made based on the relationship of
decreased exports with decreased deforestation that has been recorded, in which showed that
Malaysia had made its full commitment to comply with ITTA.

8.0 Conclusion

The ITTA is enforced in order to protect the tropical forests from further adverse effects on
its ecosystem and biodiversity. Not to be forgotten, it’s terrible impacts on indigenous and local
communities who are dependant to the forests and its natural resources. The focus of this paper is
definitely on its environmental issues as to whether this treaty is truly and specifically focusing on
the preservation and conservation of the forests and its trees or more focused on trade and market of
timbers or it gives a good balance of both as what the treaty aimed for. The flaws of ITTA as
pointed out in the earlier discussion were solely based on theories and relevance or significance of
the provisions laid out in the treaty. While the other perspective that definitively conclude on the
success of ITTA made its view from comparison and analysis based on the relationship of statistical
data and the different structures in regimes applied. In my point of view, it is safe to say that the
ITTA has its trivial flaws; specifically on the disproportionate of distribution of votes, the exclusion
of participation of environmental NGOs in debate forums, as well as insufficient scope of its
application on all types of forests, but its workings and operations are sufficiently transparent with
plenty efforts made (re-negotioations of the Agreement) to achieve better effectiveness of ITTA.

Chirchi, above n 5

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Gerry Nagtzaam, ‘Into the Woods: Analysing Normative Evolution and the International Tropical
Timber Organisation’(2014), Retrieved from

Dunya Chirchi, ‘The Combined Success of the International Tropical Timber Agreements’(2004),
Retrieved from

Stevenson, ‘The International Tropical Timber Agreements of 1983 & 1994 : An Assessment of
Treaty Effectiveness’(2006), Retrieved from

Fred P. Gale, ‘The Tropical Timber Trade Regime’, International Political Economy Series (1998).

Duncan Poore, Changing Landscapes: The Development of the International Tropical Timber
Organization and its Influence on Tropical Forest Management (2003) , Earthscan Publications
Ltd., London.

International Tropical Timber Agreement 1983

International Tropical Timber Agreement 1994

International Tropical Timber Agreement 2006

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