Academic journal article Houston Journal of International Law

The Lacey Act Amendments and United States' Policing of International Trade

Academic journal article Houston Journal of International Law

The Lacey Act Amendments and United States' Policing of International Trade

Article excerpt


       A. The History of the Lacey Act
       B. The 2008 Amendments
       C. "Prohibited Acts" Under the 2008 Amendments
       D. The Labeling Requirement and the Import
       E. Penalties and Sanctions
       A. What is Illegal Logging and Why Was the Lacey
          Act Amended?
       B. Environmental Protection Impacts: Deforestation
          and Conservation
       C. The Role of Organized Crime and Government
       D. The Impact of Illegal Logging on U.S. Industry
       E. Past International Efforts to Combat Illegal
       A. The Need for a De Minimis Exception
       B. The Future of Compliance
       C. An International Agreement to Address Illegal


The issue of the illegal logging trade has stayed quietly out of the public eye for the past several years. (1) Forests have become crowded out of public consciousness by bigger, more immediate global issues, such as the economy, terrorism, and global-warming. (2) When a little known United States law called the Lacey Act was amended in 2008 to address illegal logging, few outside the logging industry took note. (3) That changed in August 2011, when the famous Gibson Guitar company was raided for the second time by federal agents for "fraudulently labeled" ebony that was illegally exported from India. (4)

When the United States amended the Lacey Act, it became the first country to adopt a law making it illegal to import plants or plant products that are acquired in violation of another country's laws. (5) The amended law aims to control the demand side of the illegal timber trade, and as the United States is one of the largest consumers of wood and wood products in the world, (6) it follows that it fuels demand for illegal timber. In 2006, the estimated value of U.S. consumption of potentially illegally-sourced timber was $3.8 billion. (7) By closing off the largest market for timber, the Lacey Act Amendments are expected to have a substantial effect on the illegal logging trade. (8)

For domestic and foreign industries, the raid on Gibson Guitar brings into focus the potentially over-burdensome compliance costs that the Lacey Act Amendments carry with them. (9) As other countries consider adopting similar laws to the Lacey Act, questions concerning the overall global effectiveness of laws like the Lacey Act are raised. First, these laws only target the demand-side of the illegal logging equation, without touching the supply-side factors that make illegal logging profitable. (10) Second, a patchwork of such laws in all major import countries would create huge compliance burdens for the companies making legal imports. (11)

In Part II, this Comment describes the Lacey Act and how the 2008 Amendments modified the pre-existing statute. Part III discusses the illegal logging trade and the reasons behind amending the Lacey Act, including the environmental impacts and organized crime, as well as the impacts of illegal logging on the United States' domestic industry and prior international efforts to stop illegal logging. Part IV analyzes some of the implementation issues within the Lacey Act Amendments, specifically the lack of a de minimis exception provision in the statute, as well as the inadequacies inherent in the model of Lacey Act as a solution for ultimately stamping out illegal logging. Part IV also examines steps that the international community should take as a part of a multilateral agreement that fully addresses the problem of illegal logging.


A. The History of the Lacey Act

The Lacey Act of 1900 represents one of the United States' earliest attempts at wildlife protection and targeted trafficking in '"illegal' wildlife, fish, and plants. …

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