Table Of ContentsNext Page


Non-wood forests products (NWFP) have an important role to play in the livelihoods of many rural communities, particularly in developing countries, where they provide a broad range of subsistence and commercial livelihood opportunities. While much of the trade is domestic, for some NWFP species and products, the international trade is significant and generates income for the resource harvesters and collectors as well as many other actors in the commodity chain. The dearth of information on the trade in wild plants and animals makes it difficult to estimate total and relative levels of use for both domestic and commercial purposes, and this is complicated by the difficulty in distinguishing between subsistence use and trade for commercial purposes. The value of international trade, for which data is comparatively better, has recently been estimated at US$11 billion per annum.

Effective NWFP trade faces practical challenges as NWFP are often small in size, come from many different sites and a far bigger range of species and products exists than for the two key traded resources – timber and fisheries. NWFP trade is, accordingly, far more complex and difficult to understand and regulate, as NWFP can not be successfully regulated as a uniform commodity.

The international trade in NWFP is regulated through a broad range of trade-related instruments. Some of these, such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and certain national species conservation measures have their basis in the conservation of biodiversity, while others, such as import tariffs or phytosanitary certificates are used for capturing revenue, or for food health and quality control. There are also many trade-related instruments such as trade rules within the World Trade Organisation (WTO) that are based on enhancing trade liberalization, covering a broad range of products in international trade. For these instruments NWFP are not the key commodities being targeted and the impacts are not always supportive of sustainable use and trade.

NWFP trade is also affected by voluntary trade measures developed by the private sector, such as certification and eco-labeling schemes, that generally aim to achieve the dual aim of biodiversity conservation and the equitable distribution of benefits to the communities for whom such trade plays a key livelihood role.

Trade-related instruments, such as CITES, that aim to ensure biodiversity conservation do not always achieve this goal and in certain cases, have had a negative impact both on the species concerned as well as those whose livelihoods are linked to the trade. There are, however, a number of examples of win-win situations and there is increased recognition within the biodiversity conservation sector of the need to incorporate the determination of livelihood impacts into decision-making processes for the regulation of trade in wild plants and animals.

Tariffs are used by both importing and exporting countries as a means of generating revenue and, normally in the case of developing countries, as a protectionist measure. Excessive tax rates can be counter-productive as they may encourage illegal trade in the products in order to avoid the tariff. This situation often results in a lower price being paid to collectors and harvesters.

While tariff-based trade measures can have an impact on the trade in NWFP, the impact of non-tariff measures is probably greater. For instance, phytosanitary controls can become a trade constraint where they cause delays and they are normally more onerous on small cooperatives and local communities who may lack the resources to meet the required standards. Non-tariff import controls can prove restrictive as well as complex and overlapping, creating unnecessary burdens on both enforcement personnel and traders. Further, such a regulatory environment is frequently more open to exploitation.

Certification and labeling schemes have focused mainly on timber products, and the certification of NWFP has only been available in forest-related certification schemes for the last half-decade. Because of this, it is difficult to assess the performance of certification for NWFP as there are insufficient case studies and sources of information available. In general, NWFP are not considered ideal for certification programmes as the products are generally traded on a small scale in local markets and where they are traded internationally, it is frequently for a specific industry and on a relatively small scale. Therefore, only some of the more popular products are considered suitable for certification and related initiatives should be carried out on a case by case basis.

There are a number of areas where inadequate research has been carried out and inadequate literature exists to determine the impact of the trade-related measures. These include international and regional trade agreements, regional and bi-lateral biodiversity-related agreements, as well as tariff and non-tariff measures. In the latter case, the existing literature needs to be updated.

It is clear that NWFP play a critical role in the lives of millions of people around the world and that trade-related instruments do have an impact, both positive and negative, on the sustainable use and conservation of the forests producing NWFP and the livelihoods of those dependant on them. Resource users, regulators, non-governmental organizations, policy-makers and all other stakeholders accordingly need to continue emphasizing the important role of NWFP and advocating for the adoption of trade-related measures that are supportive of their conservation and sustainable use.

Top Of PageNext Page