“The Fight to Protect the World’s Most Trafficked Wild Commodity”

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The Story

“The Fight to Protect the World’s Most Trafficked Wild Commodity”
Spanish version: https://www.nationalgeographicla.com/animales/2019/08/la-lucha-para-proteger-el-producto-silvestre-mas-traficado-del-mundo
by Eileen Guo
National Geographic, August 16, 2019

The Pitch

Earlier this year, port officials in Hong Kong confiscated 55 tons of rosewood timber from a cargo container that originated in Guatemala. The month before, Belize’s Forest Department seized 30,000 feet of rosewood boards marked as Guatemalan but which, they suspected, were Belizean in origin. Both shipments were bound for mainland China, where the tropical hardwood, named for its fragrant scent and rich color, is a prized material in the replica Ming and Qing dynasty furniture popular with China’s growing middle class.

Rosewood is the world’s most trafficked wild product, and its seizure made up 35 percent of all wildlife seizures in 2016, according to the UN. To protect the world’s dwindling supply, in 2016, Guatemala successfully led efforts to add 300 species of the dalbergia species to Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which requires permits and a stricter control for their export.

And yet, despite its leadership in adding rosewood to Appendix II, Guatemala has become a key node in rosewood trafficking. This is in part due to the fact CITES controls on its trade, which Guatemala follows, is still less stringent than the complete ban on its harvest and export in neighboring Belize, leaving a loophole that traffickers can exploit on the two countries’ porous, disputed border.

I propose to investigate the impact of 2016’s inclusion of rosewood to CITES Appendix II on the global trade and trafficking of rosewood, with a particular focus on Guatemala and Belize. Who are the local participants in rosewood conservation, harvesting, and trafficking? What does the loophole created by the two countries’ differing laws look like on the ground? How does the long-standing border dispute affect law enforcement?

I plan to answer these questions through both datasets on rosewood internally and globally and cross-border trade and poaching, as well as on the ground reporting from Guatemala and Belize. I have access to several local community organizations on both sides of the border that are eager to have more international attention on this issue.

This story is especially relevant now. Nearly two years after the hardwood was added to CITES Appendix II, little reporting has examined its impact on the rosewood trade.  Further, earlier this year, Guatemalans voted to send the decades-long border dispute between the two countries to the International Court of Justice, and the disputed regions include resource-rich areas currently part of Belize claimed by Guatemala that have long been subject to cross-border poaching.

Cross-border illicit trade and communities at the ends of supply chains have become a sort of niche beat of mine. I’ve previously covered … [past publications listed here]


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