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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Lacey Act: Compliance Issues Related to Importing Plants and Plant Products

Pervaze A. Sheikh
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy

The Lacey Act regulates the trade of wildlife and plants and creates penalties for a broad spectrum of violations. In 2008, the Lacey Act was amended to include protections for foreign plants and to require adherence to foreign laws as they pertain to certain conservation and other activities involving plants. Further, the 2008 amendments make it unlawful to submit falsified documents related to any plant or plant product covered by the act, and to import certain plants and plant products without an import declaration.

The primary drivers behind the Lacey Act amendments of 2008 (2008 amendments) were to reduce illegal logging globally and increase the value of U.S. wood exports. Illegal logging is a pervasive problem with economic and environmental consequences. The World Bank estimates that illegal logging costs governments approximately $5 billion annually in lost royalties and an additional $10 billion in lost revenue. Further, if there were no illegally logged wood in the global market, it has been projected that the value of U.S. exports of roundwood, sawnwood, and panels could increase by an average of approximately $460 million each year. A halt to illegal logging would also raise the value of domestic wood production. If this is added to exports, the estimated increase in revenue for companies in the United States could be approximately $1.0 billion annually.

A highly publicized raid on Gibson Guitar Corporation brought to light several existing policy issues related to the 2008 amendments to the Lacey Act. Some issues are broad and address the intent of the act. For example, some question why U.S. importers should be held responsible for violations of foreign law or if the requirements under the Lacey Act actually reduce illegal logging. Other issues are narrow and address certain requirements in the act. For example, several suggest that the declaration requirements for importing plants and plant products are cumbersome and not possible to meet in some cases. Further, some contend that the 2008 amendments should not apply to plants harvested or plant products fabricated before the 2008 amendments were enacted. Countering these arguments are those that reiterate the benefits of the 2008 amendments, primarily reducing illegal logging and increasing the economic value of legally obtained plants and plant products on the market.

Congress is addressing these issues through proposed legislation. H.R. 3210 (The Retailers and Entertainers Lacey Implementation and Enforcement Fairness Act; RELIEF Act) was introduced in October 2011 and reported out of committee on July 17, 2012. The reported bill addresses issues related to the applicability of plants and plant products under the law, declaration requirements, penalties, and reporting requirements, among other things authorized under the Lacey Act. H.R. 4171 (the Freedom from Over-Criminalization and Unjust Seizures Act of 2012), introduced in March 2012, and its companion bill, S. 2062, introduced in February 2012, would remove foreign laws from coverage under the Lacey Act and remove criminal penalties for violations, among other things. Efforts to address implementation issues are also being pursued through regulations. The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is soliciting comments on regulatory options that can address issues related to declaration requirements, and is expected to release a report evaluating the implementation of declaration standards under the 2008 amendments.

Date of Report: July 24, 2012
Number of Pages: 25
Order Number: R42119
Price: $29.95

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