Trends in structural and chemical leaf traits along a chronosequence of semi-evergreen tropical forest and their correlation with litter production and decomposition and associated carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) fluxes were assessed. Leaves of 15 dominant species in each plot were collected to measure leaf area, specific leaf area (SLA), C and N concentration and C:N ratio. Litterfall was measured and litter decomposition experiments were set up in 16 experimental plots in a chronosequence of secondary and mature forest. All five leaf traits combined discriminated the secondary forests from mature forest. SLA, N and C:N were significantly correlated to litter decomposition rates. Litter decomposition was significantly slower in mature forest compared with secondary forests. The N concentration of litter was lowest during the dry season, when litterfall was highest. N concentration in fresh leaves was higher than in litter, indicating that N is re-absorbed before leaf abscission. Leaf dynamics and associated nutrient cycling differ significantly between secondary forests and mature forest. Ecosystem-level leaf structural and chemical traits are good predictors of the stage of the forest and explain well the differences in decomposition rates between secondary and primary forests.