By BBC News
An EU aid programme aimed at curbing the trade in illegal timber was poorly managed and often failed to achieve effective partnerships with developing countries, EU auditors say.
The Court of Auditors examined the €300m (£217m; $335m) spent by the EU on forestry projects in 2003-2013. Aid was poorly spent in some African countries, the report said.
It also criticised the failure of Greece, Hungary, Romania and Spain to tighten their rules on timber. By not implementing the EU timber regulation, they sent a "negative message" to other timber-producing countries, they said. The value of illegal timber worldwide has been estimated at up to $100bn annually.
Deforestation accounts for about 15% of all greenhouse gas emissions, environmental group WWF reports. Forests are an important "carbon sink", soaking up carbon dioxide (CO2) which is a major driver of global warming.
The EU aid programme, called forest law enforcement, governance and trade (FLEGT), covered 35 countries, including Indonesia, Brazil, Honduras, Cameroon and Liberia.
According to the auditors, "the limited financial and technical support has been spread over a large number of countries, some of which were not the key ones for tackling illegal logging".
"This diluted the support and the impact that could have been achieved," they complained. Poor results The aid programme did help to make the forestry sector more transparent in developing countries, the report said, but "the financially most significant projects in Cameroon and Indonesia did not bring the expected results".
Aid was poorly prioritised, said the report, citing as examples Liberia and Central African Republic (CAR), which "export very limited volumes of wood products to the EU and are facing many governance challenges which will prevent them from developing a functioning licensing system in the foreseeable future".
Liberia was given €11.9m, while its wood exports to the EU averaged only €5m annually. Aid for CAR was €6.8m, for just €18m of annual wood exports to the EU.
Ivory Coast, by contrast, "has exported significantly higher volumes of wood products to the EU... yet it did not receive any financial assistance", the auditors said. The EU imports on average some €166m of timber annually from Ivory Coast. In response to the criticisms, the European Commission disputed some of the findings but said it "will pursue its efforts to improve efficiency, effectiveness and economy".
"The Commission recognises the need to develop more specific objectives, milestones and a common roadmap," it said.