Newly installed forestry minister M. Prakosa and trade and industry minister Rini M.S. Suwandi announced a moratorium on the export of logs and wood chips in October in order to "safeguard the conservation of Indonesian forests."
The move, which goes against the IMF's economic recovery strategy for Indonesia, is also seen as an attempt to rescue Indonesia's domestic timber and pulp industries by ensuring them a supply of raw materials. Indonesian timber smuggled to other countries, such as China and Malaysia, is enabling those countries to undercut Indonesia in international plywood and other wood product markets.
The new ban will be a boost to the country's highly-indebted wood industry and the timber tycoons whose businesses have suffered from a lack of raw materials. A total of 128 companies are under the control of the Indonesian Bank Restructuring Agency (IBRA). A previous commitment to close half of these companies down has not been fulfilled.
Whether the export ban will be helpful in tackling timber smuggling is open to question. It is not likely to curb smuggling while Indonesia's notoriously corrupt police force, government apparatus and courts continue as before.
The new minister has promised to initiate a thoroughgoing reform of the timber concession system, and to continue with plans to tackle the problem of over-capacity in the wood industry. But similar promises made by previous ministers have had little result. Standing alone, the ban will also not address the underlying causes of forest loss. Once again, reductionist approaches fail to tackle a problem which is but another expression of an unsustainable model of production, trade and consumption.