A global bully on the loose
Papua New Guinea - A popular pastime of anti-globalisation NGOs like Oxfam is to warn how small poor countries are at the mercy of multinational giants like Nike and BHP Billiton whose turnover is many times greater than the GDP of most countries.
The irony is that the record of most multinationals is exemplary when they operate in foreign countries. They are generally better employers and corporate citizens than locally owned businesses.
What an irony it is then to see a major global NGO like Greenpeace, supported by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), behaving like a global bully towards a small country, in this case Papua New Guinea.
Greenpeace is orchestrating a campaign to stop commercial forestry in Papua New Guinea. Greenpeace is opposed to commercial forestry in what it calls 'Ancient Forests'. It classifies a high percentage of PNG forest this way. The term is similar to what is called 'Old Growth' forestry in Australia.
Greenpeace and WWF like to tell you can't sustainably log in 'Old Growth' or 'Ancient' Forest'. Of course you can. Such forestry is practised in Australia. It is possible to secure the considerable benefits available from forestry, and preserve biodiversity and environmental values. These techniques can be practised in PNG.
Greenpeace does not want to see sustainable commercial forestry in PNG. It wants PNG to practise 'Eco-forestry'. This is small scale and sometimes semi-subsistence forestry.
It has been trialed for 10 years in PNG and has been demonstrated as commercially unviable. If 'Eco-forestry' replaced commercial forestry in PNG, GDP would drop by more than 5%, 10,000 people would lose their jobs and exports would fall by half a billion kina.
Greenpeace has mounted an international pressure campaign against PNG. It is lobbying Governments and businesses to ban trade in timber products with PNG.
Its justification is that most logging in PNG is illegal.
The PNG Government hotly denies this and points to the legal bases of timber licences. Why does Greenpeace persist? There are two reasons.
First, it has its own definition of what is legal. According to Greenpeace, unless all laws and regulations relating to forestry are properly and correctly implemented, any action taken by a business under those laws and regulations is not legal.
Greenpeace also believes, 'legal' logging should include implementation of human rights, labour laws and compliance with international treaties.
This is a test that would render on any day a sizeable amount of business in any industrialised economy 'illegal', let alone in a developing country where standards of governance are typically well below those in industrialised countries.
Why would Greenpeace concoct such a contrivance? This is the second reason for attacking the PNG timber industry. PNG is a small timber producer by global standards, but to Greenpeace, it is a cog on a bigger wheel. Greenpeace and WWF are running a global campaign to stop 'illegal' logging.
Their real targets are Indonesia and a number of African countries. Their ultimate aim is to see a global convention in place to control forestry worldwide.
They cannot get global support for this. They failed to get agreement to this at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992.
Developing countries feared a global convention would be a vehicle through which Green NGOs would push anti-growth policies. Last year, a fresh effort to get agreement to negotiate a global forestry convention was blocked in the UN Forum on Forests. Leading opponents were the United States and Brazil.
Greenpeace and WWF have nevertheless continued to pressure the European Community, the British government and Australia to ban imports of 'illegal' timber.
The British aid agency, DFID, even funds anti-illegal logging campaigns. No countries have yet imposed trade bans because they would breach the rules of the World Trade Organisation.
Even so, the EU has threatened Asean countries that unless they take action to stop illegal logging, they will consider a trade ban. Meantime, Greenpeace and WWF are pressuring businesses to do what they cannot persuade governments to do.
In recent document attacking Rimbunan Hijau, PNG's largest forestry company, Greenpeace claimed it had persuaded several companies in Europe to agree not to import timber from PNG.
That is not much a win: PNG does not directly export much timber to Europe. But this is just the start for Greenpeace. It is also trying to get UK importers to agree not to import veneer from China which may contain
timber from PNG. The focus of the Greenpeace campaign in PNG is Rimbunan Hijau.
Greenpeace calls it a 'corporate criminal' and an abuser of human rights. The company has refuted every allegation.
Of course in this campaign, the company is a proxy for the PNG Government and the commercial logging industry at large, Greenpeace's real targets.
Why is Greenpeace targeting a country which is small, has a small forestry industry by global standards and has far more residual forest than most other countries?
The answer is the same one to the question 'Why do bullies bully?' Because they can.
And why does it seek to close down an important contributor to growth in a poor country? Because Greenpeace is not interested in economic growth, only its own view of how the world should look.
Alan Oxley is a former Ambassador of Australia to the GATT, the predecessor of the WTO. He also consults to the Australian forestry industry and to Rimbunan Hijau.
(Editor's note - Pacific Star, a subsiduary of Rimbunan Hijau, owns the PNG newspaper The National)
A global bully on the loose