Australia's parliament on Monday passed laws to ban the import and trade of illegally logged timber, joining the United States and European Union in clamping down on a global trade in stolen timber that Interpol says is worth about $30 billion a year.
The laws, five years in the making, impose fines, jail and forfeiture of goods and oblige importers to carry out mandatory due diligence on timber and timber products sourced from overseas.
"The illegal timber trade is a trade that benefits no one. It risks jobs, it risks the timber industry, and it risks the environment," Forestry Minister Joe Ludwig said.
Illegal timber depresses prices, slashes margins and can deter firms from investing in better due diligence.
There were sound commercial and environmental reasons to support the laws, said Ross Hearne, general manager of corporate services for Kimberly-Clark Australia and New Zealand, which makes various products from paper.
"We face cheap paper imports in Australia and one of the factors in cheap imports is illegally harvested timber," he told Reuters, adding supporting the bill had helped protect the firm's brand.
Telling illegal and legal wood and wood products apart is impossible by sight alone, making it relatively easy to mislabel origin and forge import documents.
Winners from the laws, apart from forest communities, will be firms that provide timber legality and verification services and timber importers that have already put in place tougher timber sourcing and tracking rules.
One potential winner is DNA testing and timber tracking technology developed by Singapore-based Double Helix Tracking Technologies and used by Australian client Simmonds Lumber, one of the country's largest timber importers.
DNA tests can pinpoint the species and origin of a piece of timber. DoubleHelix, as it is known, can also track timber and timber products from forest to shop to ensure clients' shipments are legal.