In spite of the fact that the situation in the Congo Basin has been much less publicized than that of the Amazon Basin, the truth is that deforestation has reached alarming rates in the six countries lying within the basin (Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo, Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon). On 11 September 2001, Friends of the Earth and Forests Monitor presented to the media the conclusions from a number of case studies on the social, environmental and economic impacts resulting from the activities of European forestry corporations in Central Africa (the full study in English “The need to control transnational forestry corporations: a European case study”, is available in the web page at http://www.forestsmonitor.org/reports/solddownriver/cover.htm, and in French (“La forêt prise en otage”), at http://www.forestsmonitor.org/reports/priseenotage/cover.htm
The NGO Forests Monitor has focused its work on studying the case of the Congo Basin and for that purpose carried out a study on the impacts of the European industry on the forest. The study reveals that more than 11 million hectares are being currently exploited by European companies, most of which are French. Additionally, France is the main European importer of wood from the Congo Basin, with 19 per cent of total imports.
The way in which France-based companies operate (Bolloré, Rougier, Thanry, Interwood, Pasquet) is particularly alarming. Those companies usually operate without any forest management plan and they rarely comply with existing legislation. Tree felling outside the concession area, cutting without respecting the established minimum exploitation diameters and the cutting of endangered species constitute common practices for this group of companies.
In relation with the economic and social benefits resulting from industrial logging the conclusions are equally worrying. Forestry industry promoters present this activity as the best option for the use of Central African forests, underscoring the direct benefits resulting from employment generation and infrastructure development such as school buildings, health centres and churches. The report shows a more complex and much less positive reality. In 1999, in spite of the fact that the value of the wood imported by the European Union from Central African countries reached 609 million dollars, local communities received little or none of that money. In this way, the large European companies continue appropriating the African forest resources.
The European Union is currently the main importer of tropical wood from the Congo Basin, with 63 per cent of imports (1999 data). "The European consumer countries must acknowledge their responsibility and adopt concrete measures to eradicate illegal wood production and trade, among other things banning the import of that wood and imposing strong economic sanctions to those European companies involved in this type of commerce", stated Samuel Nguiffo from Friends of the Earth Cameroon.