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EU urged to focus in-depth on Illegal Trade in Natural Resources

11 October 2010

EU urged to focus in-depth on Illegal Trade in Natural Resources - ImageCompetition for access to natural resources is recognised as a contributing factor of instability in many countries. This is true where resources are scarce, but the same can also be true where resources are abundant. Diamonds, timber, minerals and cocoa have been exploited by armed groups from Liberia and Sierra Leone, Angola, Cambodia and more recently Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (EDRC) to sustain their illegal activities. In fact, a 2009 UNEP study has found that ?in the last twenty years, at least eighteen civil wars have been fuelled by natural resources.?

Exploring how the European Union could help mitigate illegal trade in natural resources was the subject of a conference organised by the Institute for Environmental Security and a coalition of six other civil society organisations on 30 September 2010. The meeting, attended by representatives from the United Nations, the European Union, permanent representations to the EU, the corporate sector and civil society offered a forum for specialists to share experiences and learn from other sectors (diamond, timber, bush-meat,...) and try to find an answer to the question ?What can Brussels do??

?It?s a global problem with concrete local effects,? said Alain D?l?troz, Vice-President Europe of International Crisis Group.

The dramatic humanitarian situation in EDRC, the deep presence of warring factions and their involvement in the trade of minerals (cassiterite, coltan, wolframite, gold) fostered much of the initial discussions. Responses tend to be too general, there is a ?big difference between illegitimate violent actions and informal activities by artisanal miners who are struggling to survive,? clarified Harrison Mitchell, Director at Resource Consulting Services. Participants generally recognised that a policy providing simultaneous responses to armed groups, traders and communities was needed in order to restore stability in the region.

Speaking about the complex chain stake-holders involved, Nokia representative Pekka Isosomppi, argued that ?if you have one drop of contaminated water in the tank, then the whole tank is contaminated.?

?Campaigning from NGOs has played an important role? explained MEP Satu Hassi, talking about the EU?s efforts to increase transparency in the timber sector. Recently voted by the European Parliament, the regulation aims at banning illegally extracted timber from entering the EU. However, the regulatory approach needs support from the corporate and civil society sectors, this was echoed by MEP Judith Sargentini.

To conclude, MEP Catherine Bearder insisted on the need to ?build civil society as well as fight illegal resources? as good governance in the exporting regions is key to maintain stability. It was suggested that illegal trade in natural resources needs its own, comprehensive, European policy. It could be part of the mandate of the new European External Action Service (EEAS) and have a strong development approach. Additionally, efforts will need to be deployed to convince other major international actors to take their responsibilities and decide on similar actions. There is really no reason to postpone it further, ?the cost of remedial action is two to three times more important than the cost of preventive action? argued Ian Smillie, Chairman, Diamond Development Initiative.

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