According to the FAO (2015), about half (50.5%) of Ecuador’s territory is forested, with an estimated 12.55 million hectares (ha) of forest cover from a total land area of 24.8 million ha. Almost the full extent (99.4%) of the forest cover is primary forest or naturally regenerated forest. Only 160,000 ha (1,16%) is planted forest (designated for production). Ecuador is considered one of the world’s most diverse countries, with the Amazonian region in particular containing large tracts of intact natural forest of global conservation significance. The majority of forests - approximately 9.9 million ha (nearly 80%) - is in the Amazon region.
There are three major forest types in Ecuador (ITTO, 2011), geographically distributed as follows:
- The Amazon rainforest, comprising about 62% of the forest estate;
- Montane (sierra) forests of various types in the Andes (on the western and eastern slopes, at lower and upper levels, and towards the Andean high peaks), comprising about 21% of the forest estate;
- Tropical rainforest in the coastal plains of the Pacific region, comprising of about 17% of the forests.
Mangrove forests were once widespread, but now cover only about 158,000 ha.
Out of 12.55 million ha of forest cover, over 4.9 million ha of forest is publicly owned (patrimonio forestal del estado) and a relatively small area (762,000 ha; FAO, 2015) is in private ownership or on communal territories of indigenous peoples while, for the rest, the ownership is unknown for over 7 million ha of forest, according to FAO. The State (patrimonio forestal del estado) manages both state-owned production forests and the SNAP (Sistema Nacional de Áreas Protegidas), a network of protection areas (ITTO, 2011). In practice, most of Ecuador’s forests are owned by local communities and indigenous groups (ancestral indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorians), although the majority are not subject to official land titles. What’s more, there is considerable overlap between the areas in the SNAP and private and Indigenous lands (ITTO, 2011): according to local researchers (Palacios and Freire, 2010), indigenous groups and settlers own about 60% of the total forest area (which would indeed represent over 7 million ha) and 40% of it is within protected areas.
In order to facilitate forest administration and use (in both state- and privately-owned forests), the following classification has been established:
- Permanent state-owned production forests,
- Permanent privately-owned production forests;
- Protection forests;
- Special areas including areas for research.
Ecuador has not defined a Permanent Forest Estate (PFE) for production, but there is a clear distinction between forests destined for (potential) production (estimated by the Government of Ecuador at 4.51 million ha in 2009, including a small portion of planted forest) and forests reserved for protection (with an estimated total area of protected forests at 6.55 million ha) , and the latter are clearly delimited. However, ITTO states that the production forest area that could be considered as PFE for production is only about 2 million ha and this includes already exploited areas in state-owned forests. In protection forests (bosques protectores), which is the protection category of private properties, production is allowed if that is regulated in the forest management plans.
The forest loss is quite high with an average rate of 0.6% per year over the last 25 years (FAO, 2015). Forest conversion to agriculture is the major driver of deforestation, followed by regional drivers including: agro-industry (oil palm), logging, mining and infrastructure development. Several studies point out that despite the efforts made by the country to improve forest governance and management activities, there are still weaknesses, and there is still illegal wood that is mobilized and sold on the Ecuadorian territory.
Development of commercial plantations is a central component of forest policy in Ecuador. Implementation of the 2012 National Afforestation and Reforestation Plan (PNFR) was underway throughout continental Ecuador, for example by financial incentives given to private owners who wish to reforest their property for commercial purposes. The Plan aimed to increase the total area of forestry plantations by one million ha over a 20-year period, covering commercial as well as social and conservation objectives (Oliver, 2013). However, this project is currently suspended for lack of budget allocation by the Government for incentives.
Production and export
According to ITTO (2019) the Ecuadorian industry produced in 2017 about 3.0 million m3 of logs. Two thirds of the harvested wood in the country are destined for the commercial wood processing sector (Oliver, 2013).
The total export value of logs and primary timber products was 304 million US dollars in 2019. In 2018, logs were yet the most exported timber commodity (mostly teak logs from plantations, often squared), accounting for 60% of the export value, followed by sawnwood (23%), and plywood and veneer (17%). Export volumes of higher value-added products are still small and these consist mainly of furniture and mouldings.
In Ecuador, the demand for native timber from the country’s Amazon forests is mainly domestic, rather than export-based. As can be observed from the graph below, Ecuador’s timber is mainly exported to the neighbouring countries Peru and Colombia, and further to the USA, China and India.
Sources of information
- Chatham House, Illegal logging portal - Ecuador
- Central Bank of Ecuador Statistics 2020
- Palacios & Malessa (2010) ETFRN News 52: December 2010; 3.4 Forest communities and legal timber in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
- FAO (2020) Global Forest Resources Assessment
- Fordaq - timber trade network
- Forest Legality Initiative, Risk tool - Ecuador
- Government of Ecuador, Ministry of Environment
- ITC (International Trade Center) using UN Comtrade statistics
- ITTO (2011) Status of tropical forest management 2011 – Ecuador
- ITTO (2019) Review and Assessment of the World Timber Situation
- Oliver R. (2013), Evaluation and scoping of EU timber importers and imports from South America. TRAFFIC International
- World Port Source - Map of ports in Ecuador with container liner service.
As of April 2018, a new Environmental Organic Code (COA) started to be applied in Ecuador. This policy instrument was approved in April 2017 by the National Congress. This COA replaces the former forest law, the environmental code and all the decrees declared by national authorities. The new COA addresses issues such as climate change, protected areas, wildlife, forest heritage, environmental quality, waste management, environmental incentives, coastal marine zone, mangroves, access to genetic resources, biosecurity, biocommerce, among others. The roles related to the management of forest resources are now clearer, giving total control of natural forest ecosystems to the Ministry of Environment (MAE) and that of forest plantations to the Ministry of Agriculture (Ministerio de Agricultura –MAG).
The responsibility for industrial plantations in the Ministry of Agriculture was assigned to a sub secretary of forest production. There is no coordinated approach to natural forest management in Ecuador; many potential management techniques have not yet been put into practice. Before 1980, several licensed logging concessions operated in defined areas with specified annual yields. Concession management was abandoned in the early 1980s. Ecuador now uses a system of short-term logging licenses which, in addition to its impact on the quality and efficiency of logging operations, has encouraged foresters to consider other ways of ensuring future long-term supplies of timber, particularly through the development of forest plantations and agroforestry. (ITTO, 2011).
There is only one forest tax in Ecuador. It is based on the harvested volume in a natural forest, at currently USD 3.00 per m3, and is paid directly to the state bank account. There is no export tax, but a tax clearance certificate is required to export (See Export certificate).
The taxation (and other payments) system is otherwise considered complex in Ecuador, having to do with official (and sometimes non-official) taxes, customs, social security, and payments to local governments for services (garbage, energy, water, etc.). There is an updated document available from the Ministry of foreign trade, which gives a general view of the tax systems but also the incentives for investors in Ecuador (Guía del inversionista, PRO ECUADOR). For example: a subsidy of up to 75% of the costs of forest plantations, plus a 15-year income tax exemption (Acuerdo-Ministerial-No-468).
The Ministries of Environment (MAE) in natural forests, and of Agriculture (MAG) in forest plantations, respectively, are the national forest authorities that have to authorize harvesting; in both cases through issuance of a Harvesting permit (Licencia de Aprovechamiento Forestal) and transport permits, or waybills (Guías de Circulación de Madera) that are based on an approved Cutting license (Programa de corta) – See below.
When it comes to wood from natural regrowth on deforested land and agroforestry systems, the use and transport is carried out based on a cutting plan (Programa de corta – PC) for over 12m3, or a special form.
Cutting license (Programa de corta)
Forest legislation for natural forests establishes that prior to the issuance of the Cutting license, it is necessary to prepare an Integral Management Plan (PMI) and get approval from the MAE.
Harvesting in governmental natural production forests also requires a forest inventory, the preparation of a forest management plan*, the physical demarcation of concession limits, and social payments.
* In case the extraction of wood is carried out without making use of heavy machinery, the activities fall under the Program of Simplified Forest Management (PAFSI), while extraction with heavy machinery falls under the Sustainable Forest Management Program (PAFSU).
The Agreement 125 (Acuerdo 125) is the guide through the process to be followed for obtaining a Cutting license from the MAE (for natural forests), which includes submitting the following information:
- The location of the harvesting area and a copy of the document (Certificación de propiedad) proving ownership issued by the Property registry office of each County (Cantón);
- A copy of personal identification documents for the owner and the harvesting manager;
- A document designating the Legal representative (for a company or a community);
- A sketch-map of the location of the property;
- The standing volume of timber to be harvested, per species (forest inventory);
- A document (Carta de Delegación), signed by the owner delegating, and by the harvesting manager taking, responsibility for implementation of the Cutting license, and notarized.
In the case of forest plantations, there is a simplified process to be approved by the MAG, whereby up to five documents are requested by the online system of the MAG to obtain the Cutting license, according to the "Agreement 327" (Acuerdo 327):
- Property registration
- Identity Documents
- Volume of wood
- Delegation of the seller
- If the seller is a company, power of attorney delivered by the partners.
Approval of the Cutting license and obtaining a Harvesting permit
With the information of the Cutting license, the concessionaire / forest manager has to go to the relevant ministry (MAE for natural forests, MAG for plantation forests) and request inspection for approval. The approval must be given out within 15 days after application. Once the Cutting license has been approved, the Harvesting permit can be requested from the relevant Ministry; it will be valid for one year (and can be extended once, for 9 more months). The request has to be accompanied by information about the timber volumes to be harvested, matching or fitting within the inventory on the approved Cutting License. Once the Harvesting permit is issued, the owner may start harvesting the wood.
Cutting licenses and Harvesting permits shall receive a code and be registered in the “Forest data registry" (Registro del libro forestal) and the administrative information and control system SAF (Sistema de Administración Forestal), at the Provincial Directorate of the MAE. The MAG uses another forest production information system called SPF (Sistema de Producción Forestal) for forest plantations. For thinning, other requirements apply. Pruning can be done without a Harvesting permit, but in case the pruned products are going to be sold, a Transport license is needed.
The COA recognizes the rights of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) with regard to plans and programs for prospecting, exploitation and marketing of non-renewable resources that are found on communal lands, for communities and indigenous peoples that may be affected environmentally or culturally; to participate in the benefits that those projects generate, and to receive compensation for any social, cultural and environmental damage caused to them.
Transport permit / Waybill (Guía de circulación)
Both ministries (MAE, MAG) have local offices but the responsibility of controlling timber transport is with the MAE and the National Police, Environmental Protection Unit (UPMA).
The competent authority verifies the data entered into the system and gives way through the system for transport permits to be issued electronically. The beneficiary will be responsible for any misuse. The Transport permits are valid for the estimated time of transport (72 hours max). The origin (forest), the destination, and all trucks used for transport, small or large, must be registered in the system. The volume of each transport is automatically discounted from the Harvesting license.
Forest control and the administration of forest products have been improved thanks to the new online Forestry Administration System (SAF), launched in 2009. This is part of the SUIA (Sistema Único de Información Ambiental, or ‘Single Environmental Information System’ in English) implemented by the Government of Ecuador. It includes a computerized permit system, for which registration and login are required.
Export permit and phytosanitary certificate
The exporter must request an Export license, called DAE (Declaración Aduanera de Exportación - Customs Declaration for Exportation, in English), at the Ecuapass portal of Ecuadorian Customs and fill out the forms. After approval of the Province Director (Ecuador has Provinces and Counties) of the relevant ministry, Environment (native forest) or Agriculture (plantation forest), the user will receive a notification through the portal. Besides this Export permit, a Phytosanitary certificate has to be requested, after which an inspection is carried out by Agrocalidad. Documents such as management plan and other documents related to the production of timber or wood products must be arranged by the exporter, otherwise the products cannot be transported from the production unit.
The above-mentioned online platform SUIA, which includes systems like SAF, makes the export process virtually paperless.
The below listed key documents are based on the applicable legislation and are considered to play a key role in demonstrating legal origin.
Processing and trade
Bans and quota
Export of round wood is banned since 2005, except in limited quantities for scientific and experimental purposes. According to Article 47 of the Forest Law (2002), the export of semi-finished forest products shall be authorized by the Ministries of Environment and Foreign Trade, Industrialization, Fisheries and Competitiveness, “only when the internal/domestic needs and minimum levels of industrialization are found satisfied”.
Harvesting of Balsa and Pigüe is subjected to quotas (see also Formulario Especial).
Natural forest harvesting of mahogany / caoba (Swietenia macrophylla) and Spanish cedar / cedro (Cedrela spp.) has been banned at the national level according to this Ministerial document.
Cites and protected species
The CITES authority in Ecuador is the Ministry of Environment.
CITES Appendix II-listed species for Ecuador:
- Brazilian rosewood (Aniba rosaeodora) is one of the commercially important sources of rosewood oil, which has led largely to its over-exploitation and to its listing by CITES. The CITES listing for Aniba rosaeodora applies to logs, sawn wood, veneer sheets, plywood and essential oil (excluding finished products packaged and ready for retail trade). Finished products containing such extracts as ingredients, including fragrances, are not considered to be covered by CITES.
- Big-leaf Mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla).
- Spanish Cedar / Cedro (Cedrela spp.) is listed on CITES Appendix III.
National action on timber legality
Currently, Ecuador is listed in the initial progress category, as ‘preparing to negotiate’ for a VPA. A traceability system is being designed.
Third party certification
The only certified forest operations in Ecuador are covered by 5 FSC Forest management certificates, covering a total certified area of 58,683 ha (FSC Facts & Figures, February 2019).
Sources of information
- Asoteca, Licencia de Aprovechamiento Forestal y Guía de Circulación de Madera
- CIFOR (2013) Who buys, who sells, how much? Mapping Ecuador’s timber markets.
- CITES database
- Client Earth Logbook - Ecuador
- EU Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan briefing papers on timber trade in various countries in Latin America: Ecuador
- Forest laws and regulations of Ecuador
- Forest Legality Initiative - Ecuador
- Forestry legislation of Ecuador
- FSC – Facts & Figures
- Government of Ecuador - Agreement 125 (Acuerdo-Ministerial-No-125)
- Government of Ecuador - Agreement 327 (Acuerdo-Ministerial-No-327)
- Government of Ecuador, Guide for investors (Guía del inversionista, PRO ECUADOR)
- Licencias Forestales
- NepCon Timber Sourcing hub - Ecuador Timber Risk Profile
- Procedimientos para autorizar el aprovechamiento y corta de madera
Código Postal: 170517
Source: Transparancy International