OTTAWA — The federal Liberal government has yet to respond to a months-old invitation from Tokyo to have Canada rejoin a global environmental organization that regulates the timber trade.
A July 2022 briefing note obtained through an access-to-information request shows that Japan has asked Ottawa to be part of the International Tropical Timber Organization.
The group works with producer and consumer countries to share knowledge about conservation practices and to promote the sale of sustainable timber.
The organization currently includes 37 exporters of timber and 38 countries that import it, including all other G7 states.
Canada was among the signatories to the 1983 treaty that originally created the organization, but Stephen Harper's Conservative government pulled out of it in 2013.
The same year, Harper's government also pulled Canada out of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, a move the Trudeau government reversed in 2016.
But Canada has now been absent from the timber organization for nearly a decade, during which the World Wildlife Fund has reported worsening tropical deforestation in parts of southern Africa and Peru, driven by illegal and unsustainable logging.
The Japanese embassy in Ottawa said the country's then-state minister of foreign affairs, Takako Suzuki, first raised the matter with International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan last May, on the sidelines of a meeting of G7 international development ministers in Berlin.
"Japan expressed its hope that Canada would positively consider rejoining ITTO in order to further promote co-operation in these areas, which Canada also places great importance on," the embassy's climate-change official, Masatoshi Higuchi, said in a statement.
He said the organization "plays an important role in the areas of environment and climate change, one of the priority areas of bilateral co-operation between Canada and Japan" under various agreements the two have signed.
A July 2022 briefing note prepared for Sajjan notes the invitation Japan made two months earlier.
"Sustainable forest products, limiting deforestation and combating illegal logging are priorities for Canada," reads the July 2022 briefing note, prepared in advance of his followup call with Suzuki.
The document recommended to Sajjan that if Suzuki made note of Tokyo's previous invitation, he should respond that Canada "will consider rejoining" but note that Canada's "re-entry would require a long parliamentary accession process."
Eight months after Japan's invitation, Natural Resources Canada says it "continues to actively consider whether to rejoin the treaty" but will not elaborate on that process.
"The government strongly supports global efforts to promote sustainable forest management and halt deforestation," spokesman Michael MacDonald wrote in an email.
"Canada left the treaty in 2013 in part because it does not have tropical forests," MacDonald wrote — despite 38 other non-tropical countries being members of the group.
He noted that Canada has signed onto similar agreements, such as the Glasgow Leaders' Declaration on Forests and Land Use.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said Ottawa should join the ITTO as part of its pledge to help developing countries protect tropical forest, a promise it enshrined last December at the UN Biodiversity Conference in Montreal.
"We're looking at the role we can play, for instance, in protecting teak forests and other endangered ecosystems around the world," she said in an interview.
"The (ITTO) update reports have impacts for global biodiversity, as well as climate."
Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson was not available for an interview.
The Conservatives, Bloc Québécois and NDP did not respond to requests for comment.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 21, 2023.
Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press